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Biden aims to lift democracies with more funds despite questions over effectiveness

2023-03-29T13:27:21Z

U.S. President Joe Biden leaves Air Force One after arriving from North Carolina, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Joe Biden will announce new funding to bolster democracies around the world on Wednesday amid criticism his administration has made little progress in advancing human rights and democracy as a focus of its foreign policy.

Biden will announce $690 million to fight corruption, support free and fair elections and advance technologies that support democratic governments at a second White House-led Summit for Democracy, senior administration officials said on Tuesday. He announced over $400 million for similar programs in 2021 when he last held such an event.

Rights advocates say there is little evidence the countries joining the summit have made progress on improving their democracies, and that there is no formal mechanism to hold participants to the modest commitments made at the first meeting even as Biden and South Korea announced plans to host a future third summit.

The world has seen big changes since then with countries emerging from the global pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More recently, a move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government to weaken the power of Israel’s judiciary; Mexico’s move to gut its election oversight body; and India’s decision to disqualify a top opposition political leader have all cast a pall over Biden’s repeated claims that democracies have become stronger.

In addressing the summit on Wednesday, Netanyahu voiced confidence that a political compromise could be reached on the judicial reforms, which he argued could be reconciled with civil liberties even as his opponents have accused him of seeking to curb judicial independence.

The senior administration officials said Biden will look to make the case that the events of the last year have put into stark relief that democratic governments grounded in the rule of law remain the best way to promote peace and prosperity.

“As President Biden has said, we’re currently at an inflection point when it comes to the future of democracy both within the United States and globally,” one of the officials said.

The summit will be co-hosted by the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia. The event involves 120 countries including Taiwan, civil society groups and technology companies.

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