Biden kicks off Democracy Summit with $690M commitment to programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden opens its second pro-democracy summit by pledging that the US will spend $690 million to strengthen democracy programs around the world.

The Biden administration wants to use the two-day summit, which begins Wednesday, to focus on “making technology work for democracy, not against it,” according to a senior administration official. Some 120 global leaders were invited to participate.

Biden often speaks of the US and like-minded allies at a critical moment when democracies must show they can outperform autocracies. The summits that Biden promised as the Democratic presidential nominee for 2020 have become an important part of his administration’s efforts to build deeper alliances and persuade autocratic-minded nations to undertake at least modest reforms.

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

The official, who previewed the summit on condition of anonymity, said the government had also agreed with 10 other nations on guiding principles for governments’ use of surveillance technology.

The Surveillance Technology Agreement comes after Biden signed an executive order Earlier this week, the US government restricted the use of commercial spyware tools used to monitor human rights activists, journalists and dissidents around the world.

The world has had a turbulent 15 months since Biden’s first democracy summit in December 2021. Countries have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic and Russia has begun its invasion of Ukraine, the biggest war in Europe since World War II. Biden has also taken on Beijing and has repeatedly spoken out about China’s military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

“Around the world we see autocrats violating human rights and suppressing fundamental freedoms, corrupting them – and using corruption to eat away at young people’s confidence in their future; Citizens wondering if democracy can still solve the problems that matter most to their lives and livelihoods,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said at a virtual event ahead of the summit on Tuesday.

The US hosted the last summit alone. This time it 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 using a Cold War mentality to create global divisions.

Still, some countries would rather not get caught between Washington and Beijing.

As in 2021, Pakistan announced that it would receive an invitation, but would do so skip the peaka move partly viewed as an attempt by the impoverished Islamic nation to placate longtime ally China, which was not invited.

The Biden administration has also expanded its invitation list. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gambia, Honduras, Côte d’Ivoire, Lichtenstein, Mauritania, Mozambique and Tanzania have been invited to this year’s summit after being delisted in 2021.

The first day of the summit will be a virtual format and will be followed by hybrid gatherings in each of the host countries on Thursday, bringing together representatives from government, civil society and the private sector.

Costa Rica will focus on the role of youth in democratic systems. The Dutch adopt freedom of the media. South Korea looks at corruption. Zambia relies on free and fair elections

The US is no stranger to the challenges democracies face, including deep polarization and pervasive misinformation.

spreading lies about the Presidential Election 2020 convinced by then President Donald Trump and his supporters a majority of Republicans that Biden was not legitimately elected normalized harassment and death threats against poll officials and was used to justify efforts Republican-controlled legislature to enact new voting rights restrictions.

Later this year, the US Supreme Court will rule in a case of Alabama racial gerrymandering that pro-suffrage advocates fear the nearly 60-year-old Voting Rights Act could be effectively dismantled. efforts of Congress to support this federal law and increase voting access have failed.

Biden took office promising that human rights and democracy would play a significant role in his foreign policy approach. But he was criticized by some human rights activists for being too soft Saudi Arabia And Egypt about their human rights records. The government sees both nations as important partners in stabilizing the Middle East.

More recently, officials in the Biden administration had clashed with close Middle East ally Israel as conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to spur sweeping action judicial review that the government fears weakening Israel’s democracy.

Marti Flacks, director of the human rights initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there had been “a discrepancy” between the Biden administration’s messages and actions on human rights. The government could get better marks from allies for how it has handled the emphasis on democracy at home.

“The fact that the Biden administration has been very open and transparent about the challenges the US faces at home on the democracy front has increased its external credibility on these issues,” said Flacks, a State Department official and the National Security Council during the Obama administration session. “Because one of the big questions I think they faced was how do you start talking about human rights and democracy abroad when you can’t address those issues here at home.”

After his appearance at the summit’s plenary session, Biden will meet Argentine President Alberto Fernández for talks in the Oval Office.

Fernández, who also attended the summit, is looking for support from Biden as his country seeks to renegotiate the country’s $44 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund.

Argentina is asking the IMF to revise its requirements for unblocking the final installment of the deal, arguing it has been negatively impacted by a drought and higher energy prices caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. ___

Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad; Tom Verdin in Sacramento, California; Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires; and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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