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#DíaDeLaDemocracia: a day to evaluate democracy in Latin America

This year, the International Day of Democracy is dedicated to “democracy in times of tension: solutions for a changing world”. Today we reflect on the state of democratic values and the need for their regeneration. Español

“We live in a democracy” is a categorical imperative which is frequently called into question in Latin America today.

This system of governance, widely adopted around the world from the Second World War onwards, and above all after the Cold War, continues to be disputed and lacks consolidation in the region.

The notion of a democratic state in many regards is continuously under construction. To celebrate the International Day of Democracy, declared by the UN as the 15th of September and that is dedicated to “democracy in times of tension: solutions for a changing world” this year, we reflect on the state of democratic values and the need for their regeneration.

Latin America, among the regions most affected by democratic decline

The increase in corruption, impunity against organised crime, the rise in authoritarian tendencies and low political participation are some of the factors that situate Latin America among other regions that have recently experienced democratic decline.

The tension between State grabbing by authoritarian, military and oligarchic forces and democratisation that departs from widening political plurality and participation, including social movements, is a battle that is more relevant than ever. 

The clearest examples of democratic decline are Venezuela and Nicaragua, that became non-democratic regimes in which significant violations of human rights occurred and in which freedom of expression and political participation became severely repressed.

In other countries such as Brazil, the tension between authoritarian and democratic forces is a conflict yet to be resolved.

Only Uruguay is considered as a full democracy by the 2017 Democracy Index of the Economist, alongside countries such as Norway, Canada and Australia.

Only Uruguay is considered as a full democracy by the 2017 Democracy Index of the Economist, alongside countries such as Norway, Canada and Australia.

Strong institutions, transparency, and citizen participation are some of the indicators that are considered within this category.

These cases contrast with imperfect democracies such as Chile, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, together with the nations of Central America below these countries.

The category “hybrid regimes” includes Guatemala alongside Honduras and Bolivia. Only Cuba and Venezuela are categorised as authoritarian regimes, which is the most numerous list of the index and includes mostly countries in the MENA region, Asia and Africa. 

Scepticism regarding democracy continues to grow 

The Latinobarómetro, an index that measures among other things perceptions of democracy in the region, shows how democratic decline grew in 2017 with “low levels of support and satisfaction, as well as a sentiment that governments govern for the few” rather than for all.

The report uses multiple indicators that also confirm the decrease in a political culture based on the democratic principles of representation, accountability and configuration of political parties.

A re-politicisation based on the regeneration of democracy and an inclusive dialogue that can overcome polarisation is needed to combat this negative perception of politics in Latin America today. 

The International Study of Civic and Citizen Education (ICCS) reveals a worrying level of antidemocratic values and antisocial orientations among mostly young people surveyed in Colombia that would support dictatorships if they brought order and security to the country.

Other surveys show a growing lack of confidence in a system that is perceived as imperfect and worn out, given its difficulties in tackling corruption and reducing the enormous levels of inequality or violence which have contributed to such large levels of dissatisfaction.

The reduction in political participation and the increase in voter abstention or blank voting leads to a rise in conservative forces that are powerful minorities in the region.

The guarantees for exercising democratic rights are few 

With the violation of fundamental values such as freedom of expression in many countries of the region, full democracy seems like an impossible feat.

Murders of social leaders and journalists, political persecution, a low guarantee of political opposition and the right to protest are some of the factors of a list that limits the capacity of the region to envision a better form of governance.

Murders of social leaders and journalists, political persecution, a low guarantee of political opposition and the right to protest are some of the factors of a list that limits the capacity of the region to envision a better form of governance, better quality public debate, and transfers of powers with real levels of popular participation. 

On days such as the International Day of Democracy, we should rethink what factors are driving this global tendency of democratic decline that is thriving in the shadows of the power structures of Latin America. 

In spite of the difficulties faced however, democracy in Latin America is still alive. We must search for a way to invigorate it and make it more inclusive to attract more young people and others who feel marginalised from the political system by creating innovative measures that bring values and principles of democracy together with citizenship.

It involves reinforcing the compliance of fundamental democratic principles, contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. 

In a cycle of restoration of conservative neoliberalism in the region, in which democracy is only capable of perpetuating asymmetric power relations, the limitations of such a system are evident.

We must urgently work to regenerate democracy, by amplifying and integrating popular participation in the public sphere.

The debate regarding advancing human rights and the reduction of inequalities must be recovered, in order to reactivate hopes that democracy as a system is capable of delivering freedom, social justice and happiness. 

About the author

DemocraciaAbierta es la plataforma global que publica en español, portugués e inglés voces de América Latina y más allá, y las conecta con el debate global de openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta

DemocraciaAberta é a plataforma global publicado em vozes espanhol, português e inglês da América Latina e além, e se conecta ao debate global na openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta

DemocraciaAbierta is the global platform that publishes in Spanish, Portuguese and English voices from Latin America and beyond, and connects them with the openDemocracy global debate.Twitter: @demoAbierta

 


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