Looking back at DemocraciaAbierta, one year on

openDemocracy's Latin section is an independent space to foster debate in the region. As it celebrates a year of existence, 10 articles that best capture its spirit. Português Español

democracia Abierta
7 July 2016

Detail of "The Workers". Painting by Tarsila do Amaral (1933)

democraciaAbierta has been publishing for one year now. After more than 250 original articles, (500 +, including translations) published in at least two of our three working languages (Spanish, Portuguese, and – always - English) we have been able to build a significant readership in Latin America, in Europe and across the world.

democraciaAbierta has succeeded in establishing itself as one of openDemocracy’s five main sections, bringing voices from the Global South to an international audience and fostering a lively debate across the Latin American region. It has contributed to the creation of a much needed public sphere in Spanish and Portuguese, aiming to grant those who fight for their rights “the agency to make their case heard and to provoke action”, to quote Mary Fitzgerald, openDemocracy’s Editor-in-Chief.  

Furthermore, in an environment where media ownership is highly concentrated and controlled by a small group of powerful interests, democraciaAbierta’s mission is to provide a free and open space for democratic debate, thoughtful analysis, and quality information. As an independent media platform for plural and diverse voices, democraciaAbierta works to ensure that others can be heard and that we can fulfill openDemocracy’s shared vision: “A world where power is accountable and citizens everywhere have the knowledge, agency and capacity to change the world.”

Since early July 2015, democraciaAbierta has been able to tackle some of the key challenges for the advance and consolidation of democracy in the region. Critical questions that have been debated range from the end of a left wing political cycle to the continuing repression of human and civil rights advocates, including the assassination of activists and journalists; from the vibrant political innovation scene to the disturbing trend of parliamentary “coups”; from protracted violence to the promising end of the Colombian conflict.

 We are very grateful to our authors and readers and, as we enter our second operating year, we very much hope to consolidate democraciaAbierta’s growth in the region as a reliable platform that aims to be useful to those committed to democracy, freedom of expression and human and civil rights across Latin America, and beyond.

In this spirit, we have selected 10 articles among the most successful with our readers during this first year. They are good examples of what democraciaAbierta is up to, and the kind of debates and voices we encourage.

1-      The end of Latin America’s left turn

As a follow up of the changing political environment in the region, we published several analyses of what appears to be the end of the left-wing political cycle in Latin America. This is not happening, however, with the same intensity everywhere or at the same time. Guillaume Long, current Foreign Affairs minister of Rafael Correa’s government in Ecuador, wrote for us the following piece:

The end of Latin America’s left turn? Ecuador may disappoint you

Beyond the current shift of the economic cycle, and the huge opposition its government has met, Ecuador’s success story shows how the region’s “pink tide” is far from over.

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2-      Post-conflict perspectives in Colombia

2016 has been, so far, a crucial year for the peace process and the stakes are very high for a final agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC to be signed anytime soon. As a contribution to the public awareness of the negotiation outcomes in Havana and its implications for the Colombian society, we have been publishing - jointly with the Fundación Ideas para la Paz in Bogotá - a series on the post-conflict perspectives (already 15 articles) covering many different aspects. The key issue now is a referendum to be held two months after the final signature of the peace agreement: a major challenge indeed. On this, it is worth recalling the article from Blanca Manresa, fellow at the Institute for Integrated Transitions, IFIT.

Public endorsement and legal certainty 

A positive result in a referendum on the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC can massively strengthen the agreement’s legitimacy and confer upon it an aura of untouchability.

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3-      The whistleblowers’ key role in holding governments accountable

Massive corruption in Latin America is one of the issues that are being addressed with increasing intensity, including popular mobilisation and pressure on governments, from Guatemala to Chile, from Brazil to Argentina. In this context, as transparency is key to protect societies from abusive power, whistleblowers have a pivotal role. Argentina’s Página 12 international editor, Santiago O’Donnell, spent Christmas with Julian Assange. His cronicle was a real hit:

Christmas with Assange

Confined in Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange shows a patent physical and psychological deterioration. But with his intellectual appetite and attention span intact, he seeks international and Argentinean support.


4-      Unbearable Violence

The American continent is the most violent region in the world. There are many reasons for this, including huge inequality, corruption, the privatization of violence, the impunity of organized crime, the availability of cheap weapons, the proliferation of murderous urban gangs. Many Latin American cities are under the grip of indiscriminate assassination, but the level of violence in the city of San Salvador goes well beyond the imaginable.

San Salvador, not Caracas, was the world´s most murderous city in 2015

With almost 200 murders by 100.000 inhabitants, probably San Salvador´s murder rate exceeds the violent death rate in many of the world´s most vicious armed conflicts.

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5-      The emergence of a new Right in Latin America

As the long wave of progressive governments is nearing its end, a “new Right” is emerging across the continent. The economic downturn, driven by a fall in the world commodity prices following the slowdown of global demand, has exposed these governments’ failures and has offered fresh new conservative politicians the opportunity to make their case heard and start winning elections.

Bolivia and the new Andean Right

As with Macri in Argentina, Capriles in Venezuela or Rodas in Ecuador, the Bolivian right is growing stronger. A young Aymara woman is now the hope to defeat Evo Morales.

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6-      From protests and mobilisation to the conquest of power

Latin America has been particularly active in taking political action to the streets. Popular mobilisations, in some cases, have been able to change the political game and even overturn a corrupt government, as in Guatemala. The huge mobilisations in Brazil in June 2013 have had important political consequences thoroughly analyzed by democraciaAbierta’s authors, as has the new Spanish party Podemos, a source of inspiration that has raised many expectations in Latin America and has shown both the potential and the difficulties of transforming a grassroots political movement into a functional political party.

The 'Podemos wave' as a global hope

Podemos’ bursting into Spain’s parliament is a breath of fresh air for the Left, and for the global movements seeking to replicate the Spanish political phenomenon.

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7-      Political innovation and experimentation

A new generation of digital-native political activists has been working hard across the region to bring agency to many local movements that are trying to set the agenda through the advancement of their causes. DemocraciaAbierta has been active in this vibrant arena describing cases and offering examples of what can be done, and highlighting the fact that the challenge is how activists can innovate to have a real impact and influence the political agenda, reaching out to decision makers and legislators.

Democracy experiments in the Latin American political lab

In recent years, Latin America has experimented with different political models, seeking to consolidate democratic progress in the region. It is time to start measuring the results.

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8-      The crackdown on human rights activists, environmentalists and journalists

Latin America has witnessed far too many episodes of murdered activists, from journalists in Mexico to environmentalist indigenous leaders in Honduras. But Latin American societies are becoming more and more vocal and protests are being organized to denounce the crimes and to put pressure on governments to act. The case of Berta Cáceres, now a regional icon, had all the elements to impact the world.

Global shock: Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous leader, assassinated

The murder, on March 3rd, of the environmental and human rights activist sparked violent clashes in Honduras amid anger over the authorities’ failure to protect the high-profile campaigner.


9-      A coup or not a coup

The Latin American political arena has been greatly disturbed by the emergence of a novel way to overthrow governments in the region, from Paraguay to Honduras to Venezuela: the so-called soft or parliamentary coups. The process leading to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil had many troubling elements (from the weight of private interests and the manipulation of street protests to the personal ambitions of conspiratorial fellow politicians) and prompted a heated debate on the limits of democracy.

Brazil crisis: On heroes and coups

Rejecting the language of an elite coup against a national-popular government is key to understand the Brazilian crisis and strategize what to do from the left.

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10-      Some progress in human rights, after all

Despite the many problems and setbacks accumulated, the region has been able to mark some important advances in human rights awareness, and the governments in several countries, from Argentina to Colombia to Guatemala, have been active in this sense at home and in the international arena. México here is a troubling exception. The lobbying of Latin American governments for a change in the international drug legislation is a good example of this, and DemocraciaAbierta extensively covered UNGASS 2016 in New York. Authoritarianism, once the landmark of Latin America, has now almost become a ghost from the past. This is, at any rate, the remarkably positive note that Emilio Álvarez Icaza, the Mexican human rights ombudsman who serves as Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights conveys in the following interview:

We are gaining ground on the evil of authoritarianism

If we take into account that the Universal Declaration dates from 1948, and that subsequent legislative instruments are relatively new, then we can see that the rate of progress is very rapid.

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Thank you for reading!

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