Recent attempted transitions to democracy in the Arab world, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere have met severe headwinds. Can today’s leaders draw on lessons from successful experiences of democratization in previous decades to overcome transitional traps and other failures of democracy? Drawing on a new book edited by Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal, Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015), this symposium probed the findings of a set of in-depth interviews with leaders of successful democratic transitions. Special focus was given to two current cases of pressing importance: Myanmar and Venezuela.

The event was co-sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. A reception, including sales of the featured book, followed the event.

Sergio Bitar

Sergio Bitar is a Chilean engineer, economist, political leader, and public intellectual. He is president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy and director of the Global Trends and Latin America’s Future project at the Inter-American Dialogue.

Priscilla Clapp

Priscilla Clapp, a long-time expert on politics in Myanmar, is a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Asia Society Policy Institute. She is retired from a nearly thirty year career with the U.S. government in both foreign service and civil service positions in international affairs.

Carl Gershman

Carl Gershman is president of the National Endowment for Democracy. He presides over the Endowment’s grants program in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America.

Yves Leterme

Yves Leterme is secretary-general of International IDEA. He served previously as prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Belgium.

Abraham Lowenthal

Abraham Lowenthal, professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Southern California, founded the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Moisés Naím

Moisés Naím is a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is also the chief international columnist for El País and La Repubblica, Spain’s and Italy’s largest dailies, a columnist in the Financial Times’s “A-List,” and a contributing editor to the Atlantic.


Thomas Carothers

Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He directs the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and oversees several other Carnegie programs, including Carnegie Europe in Brussels, the Energy and Climate Program, and the D.C.-based Europe Program.