Friday, June 20, 2008 6/20/08-Democracy in Latin America

In today's excerpt--the democratic wave in Latin America:

"In 1977 all but four Latin America countries were dictatorships. By 1990 only Cuba was, while Mexico had begun to move along its slow road to democracy. Even as academic treatises were being published claiming that Latin America suffered from 'blocked societies,' incapable of democratic modernization, winds of change blew through the region. The democratic wave began in the Dominican Republic and moved quickly to Peru, Ecuador and beyond. At first, some analysts saw this as just another swing of the pendulum.

"Yet it soon became clear that several deeper factors were at work. The first was that the international climate was changing. ... In the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter had proclaimed the importance of human rights in American foreign policy, especially as regards Latin America. That led to friction between the United States and some of the dictatorships. As important, in Spain and Portugal, mortality put [an end] to the longstanding fascist dictatorships of Francisco Franco and Antonio de Oliviera Salazar. The Iberian transition to democracy in the 1970s was highly influential across the Atlantic. Second, state terror and long years of exile caused the left to reflect on the folly of its conduct in the 1960s and 1970s. Many left-wingers came to accept the value of civil liberties and of democracy--without the derogatory adjectives, such as 'bourgeois' or 'formal,' with which they had previously vilified it.

"An analogous re-evaluation took place on the right and among businessmen. Many of them had assumed that dictatorships, free of the need to satisfy voters, would be able to take the unpopular decisions required to put in place policies that would guarantee faster economic growth in the medium to long term. Yet it had not turned out like that--and this was the third and most important factor behind the turn to democracy. Most of the dictatorships had proved as incapable of grappling with the economic challenges facing the region as their civilian predecessors had been. In fact, if not in left-wing myth, military officers around the world tend to be hostile to free-market economics. In Latin America, that was partly because the armed forces themselves had a vested interest in a large state, since this provided jobs for officers and subsidies for military enterprises such as arms factories.

Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent, Yale, Copyright 2007 by Michael Reid, pp.120-122.


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