Joe Biden kicks off democracy summit with $690 million commitment to programs

Washington (AP) President Joe Biden opens his second Democracy Summit with a pledge that the United States will spend $690 million to strengthen democracy programs around the world.

President Joe Biden opens his second Democracy Summit with a pledge that the United States will spend $690 million to strengthen democracy programs around the world.

The Biden administration wants to use the two-day summit that begins Wednesday to focus on “tech working for democracy, not against it,” according to a senior administration official. Some 120 world leaders have been invited to participate.

Biden speaks frequently about the fact that the United States and its like-minded allies stand at a critical juncture when democracies must demonstrate they can outperform autocracies. The summits, something Biden promised as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, have become an important part of his administration’s efforts to try to build deeper alliances and push autocratic-leaning nations toward reforms at the less modest.

“Strengthening transparent and accountable governance rooted in the consent of the governed is a fundamental imperative of our time,” Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said in a joint statement at the opening of the summit.

The new funding will focus on programs that support free and independent media, fight corruption, strengthen human rights, advance technology that improves democracy, and support free and fair elections.

The official, who previewed the summit on condition of anonymity, said the administration also reached agreement with 10 other countries on guiding principles for how governments should use surveillance technology.

The surveillance technology deal comes after Biden signed an executive order earlier this week restricting the US government’s use of commercial spyware tools that have been used to monitor human rights activists, journalists and dissidents around the world.

The world has had a tumultuous 15 months since Biden’s first democracy summit in December 2021. Countries have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic and Russia has launched its war in Ukraine, the largest-scale war in Europe since the Second World War. Biden also mingled with Beijing, repeatedly speaking about China’s military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Russian invasion was a shocking moment for democracies around the world.

“Since the last democracy summit two years ago, the world has changed dramatically,” Rutte said. “For decades, the idea of ​​a war in Europe seemed unthinkable. But we were wrong, because Russia’s brutalization of Ukraine showed that we cannot assume that democracy, freedom and security are given, that they are eternal.

Kenyan President William Ruto has said that building democracy is essential for the growth of developing countries. Ruto was the winner last year of the country’s tight presidential race in which opposition candidate Raila Odinga alleged irregularities, but Kenya’s Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the challenges.

“This is our path to sustainability,” Ruto said.

The United States hosted the last summit alone. This time he recruited four co-hosts – Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia – after ambassadors from China and Russia criticized the first summit and accused Biden of causing a global divide. with a cold war mentality.

However, some countries prefer not to come between Washington and Beijing.

Pakistan announced, as it did in 2021, that it had received an invitation but would skip the summit, a move seen in part as an effort by the impoverished Islamic nation to appease the longtime ally. from China, which was not invited.

The Biden administration has also expanded its list of invitations. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gambia, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Lichtenstein, Mauritania, Mozambique and Tanzania were invited to this year’s summit after being excluded from the list in 2021.

The first day of the summit has been convened in a virtual format and will be followed Thursday by hybrid gatherings in each of the host countries, with the participation of government, civil society and private sector representatives.

Costa Rica will focus on the role of young people in democratic systems. The Dutch attack media freedom. South Korea is interested in corruption. Zambia Focuses on Free and Fair Elections The United States is no stranger to the challenges facing democracies, including deep polarization and pervasive misinformation.

The lies spread about the 2020 presidential election by then-President Donald Trump and his supporters convinced a majority of Republicans that Biden was not legitimately elected, normalized harassment and death threats against election officials and have been used to justify efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures to pass new voting restrictions.

Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in a racial gerrymandering case in Alabama that suffrage advocates say could virtually dismantle the nearly 60-year-old Voting Rights Act. Congressional efforts to strengthen this federal law and increase access to the vote have failed.

Biden entered office vowing that human rights and democracy would play an important role in his approach to foreign policy. But he has been criticized by some human rights activists for being too soft on Saudi Arabia and Egypt over their human rights records. The administration sees the two nations as important partners in bringing stability to the Middle East.

More recently, Biden administration officials have been at odds with close Middle East ally Israel as conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to push through a sweeping judicial overhaul that the administration says will diminish Israeli democracy.

Netanyahu, in his remarks at the summit’s opening session, said Israel remained a “robust democracy” amid “very intense public debate.” “Democracy is the will of the people expressed by a majority, and it is also the protection of civil rights, individual rights. It’s the balance between the two,” he said.

Marti Flacks, director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said “there has been a disconnect” between messages from the Biden administration and actions in favor of human rights. The administration may get higher marks from its allies for how it has addressed tensions over democracy in its country.

“The fact that the Biden administration has been very open and transparent about the challenges the United States faces domestically on the democracy front has increased its credibility on these issues outside,” Flacks said. “Because one of the big questions they had to face when they arrived is how can you start talking about human rights and democracy abroad if you can’t solve those problems here your house.” Following his appearance at the summit’s plenary session, Biden will host Argentine President Alberto Fernandez for talks in the Oval Office.

Fernandez, who was also attending the summit, is seeking Biden’s support as his country attempts to renegotiate the country’s $44 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund.

Argentina asks the IMF to review its requirements for the publication of the last tranche of the agreement, arguing that it has been negatively affected by a drought and by the increase in energy prices caused by the war in Russia in Ukraine.


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