Latin America – Consolidated democracies?
Latin America has only since 1980 experienced an autonomous process towards democracy. Therefore, people in those countries have a complete different opinion and interpretation of the term democracy. The concept of a liberal democracy is still very shaky: the idea that there exist basic rights, which by no means can be repressed or even confined by a government, has not yet set roots in the mindset of Latin American people. Elections are being exploited for the sake of gaining more power.
As there has never been a historical evolution of an autonomous and stable democracy in those countries, a president that gets elected by the people develops such a power obsession that, although subordinated to some rules written by the constitution and parliament, is nevertheless highly concentrated to a single individual. Therefore, this liberal notion of democracy as such becomes unrealizable. In the modern framework that Latin America finds itself nowadays, it needs urgent institutional reforms, in order to create better conditions for democracy to occur.
The dominance of presidential systems is ultimately a hindrance for the modernization of democracy. In order for a stable democracy to unfold, an efficient state is of essential importance. It needs to be based on trust and integrity. Most Latin Americans do not have the trust in their government and doubt the equality of justice that their government claims. What could be the causes for this mistrust? Possible answers include the legal system, the administration of justice, the judges, and corruption.
The legal system in Brazil, for example, is divided into a judiciary for the rich and one for the poor. The influence of money and politics determine the attitudes that citizens have of their government. How can democracy exist if 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line? This percentage continues to increase in Brasil. Economic development did not improve the fate of poor and huge income inequality still persists. If the trickle down effect cannot occur, social justice as a consensus of democracy cannot occur either.
Democracy in Latin America runs the risk of winning the war against dictators and authoritarianism, but loosing the battle against poverty and social injustice. A main obstacle against the strengthening and the stability of democracy in Latin America lies in the fact that powers are embedded in past “authoritarian enclaves”. Former power structures that were developed over a long time in these economies and societies solidified and determine political decisions today. Dictatorial powers used their influence – often in the alliance with the military -, in order to prevent social reforms and modernization of power structures.
The power elites were no noteworthy socio-cultural or institutional renovators of society, nor where they ever characterized by considerable social responsibility. Democracy was pleasant for them but only as a formal frame-work; but they never showed any commitment towards the embodiment of democracy as a state and a way of life. Not only have culture and mindset of people been determined and engraved by elites for years, but they were also subdued to severe and brutal abuse of military power.
That experience with violence and dictatorship has led to a stance of denial towards democracy. Behavioral patterns developed, which have not been shown to be very enthusiastic about Democracy. The reason being that many people have lived for a long time under miserable living conditions, were victims of political brutality and saw no perspective for their future. Democracy is only then interesting, if it instantaneously improves their social and economical condition. Democratization takes longer than what people are prepared to wait for. Conclusion
Democracy in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America is not blocked. Precisely, the imprisonment of Augusto Pinochet has given room for discussion regarding past dictatorial regimes and how dangerous they are in infringing basic human rights and given people the impression that democracy is worth aiming for. Maybe the key is to address the issue of the past directly rather than forget it. By setting military officers that are accountable for human rights to trial, people’s eyes are opened and become aware on the extent to which these violent abuses of power were driven.
The more aware people become, the more likely they will fight for a political system based on democratic ideals that promote the well-being of the population rather than their suppression. The evolutions of democracy in Latin America do not process consistently. Countries like Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay have been willing to meet the challenge of democracy and are experiencing a prospering future. In other countries, the strive for innovation collides with the resistance to modernize, which act to oppose the process of a democracy that we know in Europe and the US.
These countries concern Guatemala, Honduras, or Ecuador for example. Lastly, there are countries like Cuba and Haiti, in which democracy is still unrealizable. And Venezuela find itself in a position, in which the natural created wealth could not be transformed into economic and political stability, and where the danger persists that their “charismatic” president misuses the population’s economic condition to establish his own power system; not very salubrious for democracy. People in Latin America are not so much confronted with the crisis of democracy, but rather with overcoming the crises that exist within democracy.