Democracy in Latin America

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Can Democracy be Maintained in Latin America?

Understanding the concept of democracy is essential for evaluating its sustainability in Latin America. Democracy can take various forms, each with distinct characteristics. As per Webster’s Dictionary, democracy refers to a government where power resides with the people, either directly or indirectly through representation, and includes free elections without class distinctions or privileges. American politicians commonly believe that promoting democracy in Latin America involves conducting fair elections, establishing civilian governments, and preventing military coups (Millett). However, merely participating in free elections does not guarantee genuine representation of the people in Latin America. Elected officials hold power rather than the people themselves. The definitions of democracy in Latin America and the United States differ significantly due to factors like Iberian heritage, history, and tradition (Millett).

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The conquest and rule of Spain in Latin America has greatly influenced the development of democracy, as well as the establishment of traditions during this period. The impact of the Spanish mercantile system and its associated methods and practices on various aspects supporting democracy in Latin America is significant, particularly in society and economics. In terms of society, ideas such as fueros, caste systems, and church ideologies during the inquisition have played a role in shaping Latin America. Economically, Spanish mercantilism has led to a dependence on external resources for Latin America while also promoting corruption and government distrust.

To maintain democracy, gaining the support of the people and embracing a government system without class distinctions or privileges is crucial. The influence of fueros, caste, and church ideologies from the Spanish colonial era continues to impact modern Latin American society.

During Spanish rule, special immunity known as “fueros” protected government officials and military personnel from prosecution. Fueros still exist in Latin America today, preventing the population from expressing grievances and leading to a sense of hopelessness throughout society.

A functioning democracy cannot be governed solely by an elite few, even with elections in place. To ensure sustainability, mechanisms should be established to hold the government accountable through constitutional powers or vigilant citizens.

An educated populace is essential for a functional democracy; individuals should constantly question their surroundings to keep the government responsible (as stated by Aristotle). Latin America needs to strive for a literate and educated population.

The church’s control over information coupled with the elite’s desire for control has resulted in a majority of Latin Americans lacking basic literacy skills. Education is therefore essential for self-analysis skills among the population, which are necessary for political aspirations and ideas aimed at enhancing governance.

A strong economy is crucial for maintaining democracy. Mercantilism has caused reliance on imported manufactured goods in the Latin American economy. Even in the twentieth century, Latin America remains a supplier of resources, including raw materials and labor. The region has developed expertise in producing certain food items, like coffee, for other countries. However, this focus on specific crops has limited diversity and hindered the ability of Latin American countries to provide enough food for their populations.

Urbanization poses a threat to democracy as it affects several Latin American countries with the concentration of population in major cities. This influx of people creates a demand for services that strain the budget, leading to a reduction in social programs. Consequently, unemployment, social conflicts, and political instability arise. To address these growing needs, the government must decrease military spending and unnecessary programs. However, many Latin American militaries resist budget cuts, and the majority of the population is unwilling to reduce popular social programs. Governments that dare to strengthen their economies through budget reductions face significant risks to their political careers.

During the mercantilist era, various nations experienced different levels of success. South Asia and Latin America, both formerly part of large empires, have now become independent with some form of democratic governance. The British rule dominated South Asia at that time. However, after gaining independence, India underwent a significant industrialization process which resulted in job creation, increased self-sufficiency, and enhanced confidence in the government. In contrast to this progress, Latin America’s industrialization received minimal attention and investment. The region is still governed by laws that predominantly favor the ruling elite and military leaders. As a result, such unequal treatment under the law undermines people’s faith in the government and limits opportunities for ordinary citizens (Millett). Trust in the economy and societal equality play crucial roles in nurturing faith in the government.

Despite both South Asia and Latin America having coalition governments, South Asia surpasses Latin America in terms of its educated population. South Asia implemented education reforms after gaining independence, leading to a significant boost in literacy rates within a relatively short period of time. On the contrary, Latin America faces challenges in reforming its education system, with instances where education is not prioritized. Prior to independence, much of South Asia received guidance and set goals to achieve. In contrast, Latin American independence was marked by turmoil, as the Spanish throne fell and constant power struggles among caudillos ensued to fill the resulting power vacuum.

Although South Asia and Latin America, despite being different regions, both experienced rule under a mercantilist system. While Latin America faced medieval mercantilism, South Asia encountered Victorian mercantilism. The consequences following their independence were highly contrasting. South Asia flourished with governed guidance, equal treatment under the law, and substantial foreign investment that focused on building and sustaining democracy. In contrast, Latin America suffered from resource depletion, exploitation of the indigenous population, and limited economic investment. As a result, power-hungry elitist warlords constantly fought for control, perpetuating the exploitation of the population. The reform of Latin America’s economy and education system received little attention. The prevailing mentality in Latin American society still emphasizes power as the sole means to achieve wealth. Until the notion of unity and aiding one’s fellow citizens becomes prominent, democracy is likely to remain a challenge for Latin America.

Millett’s interpretation of civil-military relations as part of society’s ideas of feuros and caste has several valid points but is somewhat taken out of context. He does not provide an explanation for the decline in the military’s ability to dominate politics or why military support for democracy is crucial. A military is only a factor in democracy if it exists; otherwise, it is not necessary. In contrast to Latin American politics where corruption poses a significant threat to democracy, corruption in US politics may exist but is less visible. Millett also asserts that military dictatorships, rather than democratic governments, were prevalent models supported by the United States rather than society itself. Despite substantial changes in Latin America and the end of the Cold War over the past three decades, threats to democratic institutions persist. These challenges have been replaced with both new and old ones such as narcotics and insurgencies. Unfortunately, Millett fails to adequately explore all cultural factors that hinder sustained democracy, including the church’s role in controlling information and a lack of education among the population – essential ingredients for a functioning democracy.

Possibly, there are numerous solutions available to maintain democracy in Latin America. Various inquiries need to be answered to determine what those solutions could be. Is democracy indispensable? It is plausible that democracy is unnecessary in Latin America and that foreign interference should be barred. Similar to China, it is conceivable that the economic might of Latin America will determine the form of governance. Can individuals possess and uphold inalienable rights without democracy? Indeed, democracy is not the sole remedy. Inalienable rights could potentially be safeguarded without democracy. Can financial assistance uphold democracy? Money cannot alter history or cultures; even if another country constructs a road, corruption still exists within the police force. If there were only one solution, it would entail altering the culture. If a culture does not endorse democracy, then no amount of money, political influence, or propaganda will enable the necessary factors for its sustenance. Culture influences all the essential elements for the survival of democracy, ranging from society to the economy.

“Democracy.” Webster’s New Compact Dictionary. Ed. 1995.

The book “ARISTOTLE On Man in the Universe” was written by Louise Loomis and published by Random House in New York in 1943.

Millett, Richard. “Is Latin American Democracy Sustainable?.” North-South ISSUES on DEMOCRATIZATION Vol. II, No. 3.

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Democracy in Latin America. (2018, Jun 26). Retrieved from

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