La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Blogging will be intermittent for the next few days since it is the end of the semester and I have a revolving door on my office through which students I haven't seen all semester pass to ask for last minute extra credit.

Apparently, Latin Americans only weakly support democracy as an institution and have quickly forgotten the crimes of the military regimes throughout the region in the 1960s, 70s, and 1980s. According to a new study by the United Nations, slightly more than half of Latin Americans would support a dictatorship if they thought it would solve their country's economic problems.

According to a story in El Tiempo from Colombia:

Las conclusiones centrales del informe lanzan una alerta sobre la enorme crisis de la democracia. De ese modo, al preguntárseles a los encuestados por su convicción en este modelo político, un 43 por ciento se declara demócrata, un 30,5 por ciento, ambivalente y un 26,5 por ciento (más de la cuarta parte) se reconoce abiertamente antidemocrático.

En esa misma línea, un 58,1 por ciento está de acuerdo con que el presidente de su país vaya más allá de las leyes, y un 56 cree que es más importante desarrollo económico que democracia.

What this says is that 43% expressed a clear preference for democracy, 30.5% were clearly ambivalent, and another 26.6% were unsupportive of democracy. Further 58.1% believe their president goes outside the law and 56% think that economic development is more important than democracy. The full story is online.

According to an article in the New York Times on the same UN report:
Since 2000, four elected presidents in the 18 countries surveyed have been forced to step down because of plunges in public support, and others may now be in peril. The countries surveyed were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

All of these countries have either introduced or consolidated electoral democracy over the past 25 years, emerging from unrepresentative one-party politics or harsh and repressive military rule. All of them hold regular elections that meet international standards of fairness and enjoy a free press and basic civil liberties....

...The report attributes the erosion of confidence in elected governments to slow economic growth, social inequality and ineffective legal systems and social services. Despite gains in human rights from the days of dictatorship, most Latin Americans, it says, still cannot expect equal treatment before the law because of abusive police practices, politicized judiciaries and widespread corruption.

The full article is online.

In some regards, none of this should be surpising. Many of the military regimes of the 1960s (Brazil 1964, with the help of the U.S. government) and 1970s (Chile 1973, again with the implicit support of the U.S. government, and Argentina in 1966 and 1976) were ushered into power in Latin America on the heels of poor economic performance, high inflation, and high unemployment. And the authoritarian regimes did turn around those economies for a while. But in the end, another round of economic crisis in the 1980s combined with the high social costs associated with the military regimes (deaths and disappearances) led to democratic transitions. Political scientists, for the most part, don't really think that authoritarian regimes are any better than democracies in promoting economic growth. Normatively, we certainly hope that's not the case, anyway.

What is apparent, though, from the UN study and from talking to Latin Americans in general, is that the region needs and wants stable economic growth and will punish political leaders (democratic or otherwise) that don't provide it.

posted by Michelle @ 9:13 AM,


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