Latin American democracy vindicated

by By Mae Ghalwash

Contrary to critical beliefs, Latin American countries have made profound strides toward democracy, surviving tough economic, political and social challenges, saidScott Mainwaring,director of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, in a speech last week at the James Baker III Institute at Rice University.p. During the past two decades, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and other Latin states have been shedding authoritarian rule, but their moves have been labeled superficial and limited.p. Mainwaring stated that the efforts have been “underappreciated” and the young democracies have survived major impediments such as poor economic performances which normally undermine democratic development. As an example, Bolivian democracy has survived an inflation rate of 8,000 percent. “To remain democratic with that economic crisis is no small feat,” Mainwaring said.p. Brazil and Peru have expanded their electorates while allowing human rights and environmental groups to flourish, Mainwaring said.p. Mainwaring did not, however, deny or belittle the challenges confronting Latin American democracies. For example, there is the “erosion” of democracy in Colombia, where violence unleashed by drug traffickers and guerrillas has taken hold of democratic institutions.p. Venezuela, under populist leader Hugo Chavez, has witnessed attacks against its judiciary and legislature that have rendered that country a “semi-democracy under siege,” Mainwaring said.p. Other challenges include poverty, lack of government accountability and gaps between citizens – situations in which one group suffers discrimination and has fewer rights than others, like in Brazil, Mainwaring said.p. Mainwaring cautions that although political transformations in some countries are profound, social and economic issues still have to be tackled. “If these are not ultimately resolved, I fear this will negatively affect democracy in the region,” he said.p. Monday, December 18, 2000

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