Democratization in Latin America – Hope or Illusion?


It had the name of democracy, but it wasn`t democratic. It was the prostitution of democracy by political parties who wanted to block the reforms the country needed.

 -Eduardo Gamarra, Bolivian political scientist, Florida International University-

As I discussed Latin America Energy situation in my last post: The Utopic Gree Economy – Potentially in Latin America, I would like to dig in deeper into Latin Americas current situation, presenting its political history and condition.


Democratization in Latin America

Its nearly 25 years ago, that  politics in Latin America began to change radically. In a region that had been dominated mostly by authoritarian regimes, democratization processes started to take place. The pioneer was Ecuador in the late 70’s,  a country with simple developed democratic structures. Little later Peru, Bolivia and Argentina followed. Throughout the eighties and nineties a liberal-democratic form of government was establish or at least introduced  in almost all Latin American countries. Sole exception was Cuba.



Since its rebirth, the stability of political democracies in the region is critical. This is hardly surprising considering the recent Latin American history which is characterized by the interplay between dictatorship and democracy. This background caused justified fears the pendulum would eventually bounce back towards authoritarianism, especially since democracy was introduced under unfavorable socio-economic and political conditions. Therefore,  doubts about the stability of democracy have been risen – doubts that have been intensified by the traditional strong intervention affection of the military in politics and current political crises.


Democracy in danger

In this sense re-autocratizing trends can observed in various Latin American countries like Peru and Haiti. Another example is Venezuela where the 1998 elected President Hugo Chavez succeeded in personalizing the political power. Due to serious erosion problems the  “democracy” in Colombia is highly questioned as well. Large parts of the country are disconnected from the control of the state, the country is therefore underlying a mixture of legitimate and non-state powers.

A further constant problem case, although usually classified as a democracy, is Guatemala which still has an alarmingly low profile in terms of human rights and the rule of law. At least its army, which traditionally exerted a dominant influence on policy, got reformed as a result of the peace agreement of 1996.

The political system of Chile however, with its democratic character heavily debated in the beginning, given the military’s reservation of power, belongs, according to its overall profile, to the democracies of Latin America.


Will democracy survive?

So what can be said after all? The wide spread lack of the political- and the absence of social democracy reinforce each other. The dramatic degree of social inequality and poverty is downgrading the conditions of competition, weakening the representation of democratic institutions and hinders the complete transition of the dated dictatorial systems to modern democracies. Simultaneously the elected governments are not capable of solving the various manifestations of social injustice or at least reducing them.

It is now up to politicians and society in Latin America,  to initiate and implement social reforms and obtain a sense of responsibly under these difficult conditions. Redistribution and stability are hereby, not only in economic terms, but also in political ones in tension. The enforcement not only of civil and political, but also economic, social and cultural rights wont be possible neither without conflict  nor without compromises and patience. The new Brazilian President Lula, who is fighting for social justice like no other Latin American politicians, is currently trying  to manage this balancing act.

Given the amazing survivability of democracy in the last 25 years since its rebirth, I personally believe that Latin America will manage the act, of becoming completely democratized as well as succeeding in making it to a Green Economy. Feel free to leave a comment and share your opinion.