Democracy in Latin America
I posted this at Babalu last week, and it got picked up by the Carnival of the Revolutions. I have been pondering the subject of democracy in Latin America for several months now, and what strikes me as interesting is that the books I mention not only explain the dismal situation, but actually bring up the possibility of change towards true democracy and free markets. That in itself is progress, albeit small. Here’s the text of my post,
I came across this article, Latin America’s dysfunctional democracy, by Denise Dresser, Professor of Political Science, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.
In the article, Ms Dresser explains,
Governments that are built on clientelism don’t need to respond. They produce skin-deep democracies in which people have a vote but don’t really have a stake, in which wealth is increasingly concentrated and income disparities are harder to breach. Worse still, such governments turn their citizens into recipients instead of participants.
. . .
Democracy may be working well enough in terms of free and fair elections. But something else is malfunctioning, and it transcends particular presidents, whether the president is Venezuela’s populist Chávez, Mexico’s conservative Fox, or Brazil’s left-leaning Lula. It has to do with a deep, historic, structural reality.
Latin America’s dysfunctional democracy is the result of a pattern of political and economic behaviour that condemns Latin America to stagnation, independently of who governs. It stems from a pattern of postponed or partial structural reforms, of privatisations that benefit elites but hurt consumers.
This has sustained a model that places more value on the extraction of resources than on the education and empowerment of people. Bountiful resources such as oil are a bane for democracy in developing countries, because when a government gets the revenues it needs by selling oil, it doesn’t need to collect taxes. Governments that don’t need to broaden their tax base have few incentives to respond to the needs of their people.
Earlier this year I attended a lecture at the Princeton Public library by José Ignacio García Hamilton (website in Spanish), who describes
La cultura de la democracia se asienta en la autonomía de la voluntad. En las sociedades autoritarias, en cambio, la esfera de la autonomía se aleja del individuo ingresando en otra dimensión: la del padre, el jefe, el general, el dictador.
The culture of democracy is based on autonomy of the will. In authoritarian societies, however, the sphere of autonomy moves away from the individual, entering in another dimension: the one of the father, the head, the general, the dictator.
Dr. García Hamilton explored how the authoritarian society can develop into a clientilism culture.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who Mora has previously quoted, has published a must-read book, LIBERTY FOR LATIN AMERICA How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression. In his book, AVL looks at clientilism and statism.
Hernando de Soto, in his book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else explains how the process of establishing propert rights and the rule of law as a normalized component of a society is more a political–or attitude-changing–challenge than anything else.
As we contemplate the possibility of a democratic Cuba, it’s worth examining how democracy has developed in Latin America, and how to reform institutions and the underlying culture for the benefit of the public.
And how to avoid more Cubazuelas.