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PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY IN LATIN AMERICA. Twelve Theses, Three Recommendations, And One Exhortation University of North Texas March 2007 Peter H. Smith. THE PLAN. Introduction and Background The Electoral Arena Channels of Representation State Capacity and Policy Performance

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PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY IN LATIN AMERICA

Twelve Theses,

Three Recommendations,

And One Exhortation

University of North Texas

March 2007

Peter H. Smith


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THE PLAN

Introduction and Background

The Electoral Arena

Channels of Representation

State Capacity and Policy Performance

Conclusion


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THESIS#1

  • Electoral democracy—with free and fair elections—has reached unprecedented levels in Latin America.


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DEFINITIONS OF ELECTORAL REGIMES

  • Democracy = free and fair elections

  • Semi-democracy = elections free but not fair; or, winner not invested with genuine power

  • Competitive oligarchy = elections fair but not free; candidates and suffrage restricted to socioeconomic elite

  • Autocracy = none of the above, or year of military coup


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THESIS # 2

  • It has become possible for the “left” to acquire power through the electoral process, giving rise to what has come to be known as the “pink tide.”


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  • THE PINK TIDE

  • Hugo Chávez, Venezuela (1998, 2004, 2006)

  • Lula, Brazil (2002, 2006)

  • Néstor Kirchner, Argentina (2003)

  • Evo Morales, Bolivia (2005)

  • Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua (2006)

  • Rafael Correa, Ecuador (2006)

  • Near-Misses:

  • Ollanta Humala, Peru (2006)

  • Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico (2006)


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CURRENTS IN THE TIDE

  • Spontaneous not organized:

    • domestic issues and concerns

    • Chavista backlash

  • Shifts in membership:

    • distancing by Vázquez

    • rivalry between Lula, Chávez

  • Polarization and popular blocs:

    • 30-50 % dissatisfied

    • 20-40 % satisfied (?)


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THESIS # 3

  • Recent elections have produced substantial ideological diversity in Latin America.


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ELECTORAL OUTCOMES

  • 8 governments of “left”

  • 3 governments of center

  • 7 governments of “right”


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THESIS # 4

  • Recent elections have challenged (or demolished) fundamental theorems in U.S. attitudes toward Latin America.


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AXIOMS IN AMERICA’S VIEW OF WORLD—

AND OF LATIN AMERICA

  • The Cherished Assumption—freely elected leaders will support U.S. policy

  • The Western Hemisphere idea—the new world is distinct from old, will forge common front in international arena

  • Democracy rationale for “regime change”

  • The hegemonic presumption—the United States can dictate political life in Latin America.


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THESIS # 5

  • Civil liberties are frequently constrained in Latin American politics.


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TYPES OF RESTRICTIONS

  • Muzzling of press (and assaults on journalists)

  • Constraints on meetings, demonstrations

  • Unlawful detentions

  • Complicity with paramilitary organizations

  • Biased application of law

  • Capricious judicial decisions


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THESIS # 6

  • The combination of electoral democracy with systematic constraints on civil liberties has made “illiberal democracy” the most common form of political organization throughout the region.

  • Liberal democracy = free elections plus extensive civil liberties

  • Illiberal democracy = free elections with constraints on civil liberties




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THESIS # 7

  • Political parties are weak in many countries of Latin America.


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THESIS # 8

  • Legislative branches of government are weak in most countries of Latin America.


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LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

Electoral Systems:

PR and multi-party politics

Closed-list vs. open-list ballots

The problem of term limits

Institutional Performance:

Scant resources (staff, budget, etc.)

Essentially “reactive” legislatures

Removing presidents?


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THESIS # 9

  • States lack resources and capabilities in most countries of Latin America.


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THESIS # 10

  • Democratic states have been unable to reduce poverty or inequality in most countries of the region; one of the most urgently needed reforms concerns fiscal policy.


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THESIS # 11

  • Many Latin American citizens are frustrated with the performance of their democratic governments; but they are expressing their frustration through elections.


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THESIS #12

  • Democracy has come to Latin America mainly through domestic efforts and developments, rather than the influence or example of other countries—including the United States.


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(MIDTERM) GRADES

  • Leadership selection/elections = A

  • Durability = A-

  • Representation = C+

  • Policy Performance = C-


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RECOMMENDATION # 1

  • The United States should accept the ideological diversity of politics in Latin America.


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RECOMMENDATION # 2

  • U.S. leaders should appreciate the strategic value of Latin America.


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RECOMMENDATION # 3

  • The United States should actively engage all democratic leaders in Latin America, even those with anti-American views


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AN EXHORTATION FOR THE UNITED STATES

  • Focus on politics—beyond the war on terror, beyond free trade; recognize exceptional nature of current opportunity

  • Adopt long-term view of national interest

  • Hands off! Do not intervene in elections or encourage overthrows of elected leaders

  • As opportunities arise, bolster institutions and “deepening” of democracy in Latin America

  • Re-examine The Cherished Assumption



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