Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Latin American Democracy in Retreat

Authoritarian Venezuelan
Pres. Nicolas Maduro.
In the mid-2000s, Colombia's popular and hard-right Pres. Alvaro Uribe wanted to run for a third consecutive term. But the Constitutional Court ruled against the idea, saving Colombia's fragile democratic system from falling into the grip of a strongman. Uribe instead selected his defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, to run as his succesor. Santos won - but rebelled against his mentor, creating a sort of alternation of powers.

Similarly, in Ecuador Pres. Rafael Correa tried to maintain power by selecting his own succesor. But that man, Lenin Moreno, also rebelled against his mentor, saving Ecuador's instituations from becoming puppets of a strongman.

But Argentina did appear to be falling victim to a personality cult under the corrupt Kirchner dynasty - until Argentineans finally voted against them and elected Pres. Mauricio Macri, who is trying to clean up the Kirchners' mess.

Nicaragua's authoritarian president-for-life Daniel Ortega
and his wife, who is also his vice president.
Other Latin nations, however, have been less fortunate. In Bolivia, Nicaragua and, most notoriously, Venezuela, leftist leaders are turning themselves into presidents for life, sometimes with disastrous results in corruption, human welfare and the economy.

Now, some fear that Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, a
leftist populist admirer of Cuba's ex-dictator Fidel Castro who will have few checks on his power and who appears to believe more in himself than in democratic institutions, will weaken Mexican democracy, which has just suffered through a presidential term marred by flagrant corruption and is under strain from chronic drug violence.

Jair Bolsanero, potential
dictator of Brazil?
But now the greatest threats to Latin democracy are coming from Washington D.C., where a leader
 who patently does not believe in democracy is setting a deplorable example for nations which once looked to the U.S. for democratic guidance, and Brazil, which is about to elect a racist, homophobic misogenist and unapologetic admirer of military dictatorship, as president.

Brazil's importance can hardly be exaggerated. It is the largest nation in Latin America and the world's fourth-largest democracy. It is also the protector - if it can be called that - of the Amazon, one of the planet's treasures of biodiversity and storehouse of carbon dioxide. And if virtual Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro is even more extreme than Trump, Brazil's institutions are much weaker.

It's all enough to make one wonder whether Latin America (and even the planet's) brief experiment with liberal democracy was only that, and experiment, which is failing.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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