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WORLD FOCUS: Open society

July 25, 2011
At the State Department, George Vickers would be called an “Old Latin American Hand.” Someone with deep knowledge of the culture, politics and people of the countries of Latin America.

In fact, most of Vickers’ professional career was devoted to promote programs that would advance democratic values, human rights, the rule of law and economic progress in Latin America. As the current director of International Operation of Open Society Foundation, he serves not only as an advocate on Latin American issues with U.S. Congress and other Washington-based policy actors, but oversees all of OSF programs globally.

He also served numerous times as an election observer in Central and South America, and co-directed missions monitoring the implementation of peace agreements in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Vickers is the scheduled speaker at the forthcoming Adirondack Roundtable breakfast meeting.

Prior to his lecture, Vickers agreed to give an interview to the Lake Placid News.

Responding to the question of how does the mission of the Open Society Foundation differ from the one pursued by the State Department, Vickers explained that by all indication the priorities of the U.S. government in Latin America are security concerns, particularly counter-drug policies and economic trade.

“Otherwise, Latin America is at the bottom of the regional priority list and policies are entirely reactive. This was particularly evident in the tepid U.S. response to the coup d’etat in Honduras,” he said.

In contrast, the priorities of the Open Society Foundation in Latin America include promoting greater transparency and accountability of the governments, strengthening the capacity of civilian institutions, including reforms that will combat penetration of state organs by organized crime.

“One of the specific points of difference between the U.S. government policies and OSF in the region is over counter-drug policies,” he said. “In our view, the overly militarized U.S. focus on source country eradication has demonstrably failed. We favor new approaches suggested by the Latin American High Commission on Drug Policy.”

The Open Society Foundation, an organization founded and financed by George Soros, a wealthy American investor, has a long track record of supporting civil society goals and succeeding.

“We rely heavily on local on the-ground expertise to shape our priorities. In Eastern, Central and Southern Europe we established many national foundations with their local boards and staff. … In Africa, Asia and Latin America we rely heavily on national advisory boards who help guide our strategy. George Soros has often said that we try to help governments to do a better job of delivering public goods and at the same time we help civil society to hold governments accountable for their behavior and promises.”

Vickers noted that the transitions from totalitarian rule, as it happened in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, or from authoritarian rule in Latin America, to create sustainable democracies, takes a very long time. “Longer than the political will of the “international” community to remain substantially engaged and supportive. Among other things, this means that it is essential to build the capacity of local actors on the ground to maintain momentum as the interest of donors declines,” he said.

Vickers, in his lectures makes an effort to alert his listeners to a development not widely recognized.

“The inability of new democracies in parts of the former Soviet Union, Latin America and Africa to effectively consolidate democratic institutions and to substantially improve the lives of citizens has undermined the arguments one heard a decade ago that democracy is an essential condition for effective development,” he said. “The economic success of authoritarian states like China and Singapore has further called into question such claims, and, indeed strengthened alternative arguments that social order and economic development are key requisites of democracy.”

Vickers, who has just returned from a trip to Southeast Asia, observed how citizen pressure for more representative and non-corrupt government cannot easily be reduced to measures of economic growth or government control of military and law enforcement institutions. Thus, he said he hopes to discuss with his audiences some of the dynamics of regional change and also look at both the obstacles and the prospect in places like the Middle East and parts of Asia.

¯George Vickers is the scheduled speaker at the Adirondack Roundtable, Saturday, July 16. at 8.30 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Resort. For details, visit

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George Vickers



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