As this article was being written, a historical announcement of normalization of US-Cuba ties came, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Despite skepticism about the effects of the restoring of diplomatic relations and lifting of the embargo, expectations about a “Cuba Libre” arose even before this novelty, when Raul Castro took in and made some slight changes toward economic openness.
The hope of a democratic Cuba could make one predict a “Fukuyaman end of history” in the region, i.e., the consolidation of liberal democracies from Patagonia to Mexico. Today, most countries in Latin America are, at least formally, democratic. In fact, Latin Americanists such as Scott Mainwaring were very optimistic about the region after the democratic transitions that started in the 70’s. Cuba was the only untouched reminiscent of the Cold War conflicts that turned many countries in the region into authoritarian regimes.
However, there are some backlashes in freedom and democracy in many countries of the region: as Jeane Pearce points out, “extra-constitutional manoeuvres have been used to retain, usurp or augment power” in the region, despite maintaining elections and democratic institutions for the past decades.
If during the 60’s most authoritarian coups came from the right-wing, supported by US, now it seems that the main threat comes from leftist governments. Mainwaring’s optimism about Latin American democracies is being questioned after the rise of bolivarian socialism in Venezuela. It is true that the country has chosen its leader through elections since Chavez took over. However, the legitimacy of those elections is questioned. First, the electoral process faces distrust because international observers were not invited for many years, although political leaders like Jimmy Carter were invited subsequently and claimed that the electronic ballots used in the country as the safest in the planet. Moreover, the main issue regarding the electoral legitimacy is not the ballot system, but the lack of free competition, given the fact that the opposition does not seem to be free to act.
While countries such as Bolivia support and follow Chavez’s model of politics since its beginning, in terms of economic volatility Venezuela is being resembled more closely by Argentina lately: both countries are dealing with huge inflation rates, plunging currencies, together with very unorthodox ways of controlling these problems.
Side by side with economic problems, Argentina also faces its own challenges on democratic stability. After many years without a president ending its term due to impeachment processes, the Kirschner era began, first with late Cristina’s husband, then with her as the commander-in-chief who has been accused of suppressing the free press and making economic freedom a distant dream.
Notwithstanding, some threats to democracy seem to come from the right-wing. In 2012, Paraguayan’s leftist president Fernando Lugo was deposed in a quick impeachment process that was seen as illegitimate by many viewers inside and outside the country, reversing the trend of stability that followed dictatorship (and Cold War) in the country in the past decades.
It is true that other Latin American countries enjoy a high level of democratic quality : Uruguay and Costa Rica are “full democracies”, according to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranking above many developed nations. Others, like Brazil, seem to be in a middle ground, with significant advances at one hand (and even worldwide appraised democratic innovations, such as the Participatory Budget), but huge challenges in terms of rule-of-law on the other. Despite some claims for army intervention on recent demonstrations against the government, democracy does not seem to be at risk in the giant from the South. Most Brazilians support democracy (despite their high levels of distrust in government), and the Army itself does not seem to be prepared or even willing to take power.
As the Cold War era gets distant, left-right conflicts (or even the left-right paradigm) might be fading out. The new approach between US and Cuba could help on that, as it could influence Venezuela and its neighbours as well. However, even if that happens, there is still a long way to secure democracy throughout Latin America as a whole. Old plagues like poverty, inequality, corruption and one of the highest levels of violence in the planet make democracy still a challenge in the region.
SOURCE: Venezuelan Government