On September 18, 2007, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and the Latin American Program cosponsored a policy forum, "Democratic Deficits: Addressing Challenges to Sustainability and Consolidation Around the World." The forum explored comparatively the obstacles countries face in sustaining and consolidating democratic systems. In keynote address, Philippe C. Schmitter of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, criticized an ever-expanding set of criteria" for evaluating the quality of democracy, arguing instead for a relative assessment that compared cases across the same cultural or geopolitical areas. The use of diminutives such as "low-intensity," "illiberal," "delegative," and "defective" in describing new democracies obscures the fact that the "neo-democracies" that have emerged since 1974 have actually made great progress, particularly in Latin America. Schmitter argued that the quality of a particular democracy should be measured relative to its potential, not according to the standards of more established democracies that took centuries to develop.
A panel on "Social Deficits, Poverty, and Inequality" considered the governance challenges faced by new democracies as they seek to improve the quality of life for broad segments of the population. Evelyne Huber of the University of North Carolina outlined the partial successes achieved by some Latin American and African democracies in addressing poverty and inequality and improving social services.
To explore how weak or ineffective national and local institutions continue to plague democratically elected governments, Luis A. Chirinos of Participa Perú and RTI International discussed the challenges of accountability and civil society in Peru. Other panelists examined questions of weak or ineffective public sector institutions, both national and local, and the challenge of curbing corruption.
A final panel on "Limitations and Threats to Democracy" explored the development of democratic governance in the most difficult environments, including post-conflict settings. Former Wilson Center fellow Brooke Larson, Stonybrook University, and 2008 Wilson Center public policy scholar Rami G. Khouri, American University, Beirut, were among those discussing the challenges facing the democratic process in addressing deep societal cleavages, both ethnic and religious, in Bolivia, Lebanon, the Balkans, and Afghanistan.