By Jannis Otte - International Relations Student
For the sixth year in a row, the level of democracy in Latin America has fallen. The number of autocracies is at an all-time high. The performance and innovative strength of most economies is too low to meet expectations for economic prospects. Doubts about democracy are growing, as is the intensity of political and social conflict. The social inequities that have always existed in the region, but which have been exacerbated during the democratic phase. A political system with such a negative record runs the risk of losing its social legitimacy; this is especially true of the democratic system, which claims as its goal the construction of a just society, as all of the continent's constitutional texts show (Bertelsmann Foundation, 2021).
Humanitarian chaos in Venezuela, violently suppressed unrest in Nicaragua, the regression of Guatemala and Honduras to banana republics, the rise of an unabashedly right-wing extremist Bolsonaro, Argentina's permanent crisis, the unbroken spiral of violence in Mexico and the peace process in Colombia, which threatens to fail. The pandemic is taken into account, although the pandemic accelerated or exposed already existing problems and should not be used as an excuse or explanation for the state of Latin America. But it has also reinforced the idea of approaching the post-pandemic future not as a return to the "old normal," but as an opportunity to create new institutional, political, economic and social frameworks in what some call a "new social compact” (Bertelsmann Foundation, 2021).
The democracy wasn´t completely unsuccessful. Democracy in Latin America has already its important achievements such as establishing regular elections after a history of political instability and dictatorships, macroeconomic and financial stability after a history of debt crisis, new forms of social participation and mobilization, poverty reduction and a rising middle class. And at this point I would like to make it quite clear that democracy forms the basis for solving the problems of Latin America, since there is no other political form of government to advance a positive development of Latin America without human rights violations and authoritarian states.
Whether Latin America slips aside or remains within democratic parameters depends primarily on two factors: the strength of institutions and the ability of states to change and adapt to new times. Above all, this means fighting favor-trading and corruption (Malamud & Núñez, 2021). Let's assume that Latin America manages to maintain its democracies in the future and its ability to better represent the electorate and maintain respect for the rule of law. What might the situation look like in the future?
In coming years, a demanding electorate may call for institutional reforms that primarily address regional structural problems. Reforms should primarily promote institutional innovation in terms of investment in human capital, poverty reduction, and a culture of entrepreneurship. Reforms should also focus on approaching the problems with drugs, organized crime, illiteracy and develop a diversified economic model. Later on, the goal should be to integrate the regions more effectively into the global context. Political leadership is diverse, the relationship between government and civil society is generally cooperative, and there are commitments to public education, tax reform, and other democratic processes. Of course, outcomes will vary from country to country and region to region. In the future, the familiar patterns of the past, such as inequality, violence, and authoritarianism, may no longer exist or at least be greatly reduced through institutional reform and investment in education.
Governments should truly represent the diverse society and all segments of the population will be represented. In other words, there is a balance between representation and participation. More importantly, a generation could emerge that highly values democracy, individual freedom, pluralism, freedom of expression, power transition and public deliberation. Latin America could serve as an example for the rest of the world to learn from its mistakes and experiments. In the end, however, there is, of course, no guarantee on the path of democracy.
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Bertelsmann Foundation, B. (2021). BTI 2020: Latin America and the Caribbean. https://www.bti-project.org/en/reports/regional-report-LAC.html
Malamud, C., & Núñez, R. (2021). Latin American democracy after a year’s pandemic.http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano_en/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_in/zonas_in/ari54-2021-malamud-nunez-latin-american-democracy-after-a-years-pandemic