Democracy In Latin America

Is Democracy Sustainable in Latin America? In order to determine if democracy is
sustainable in Latin America, it is important to understand or at least have an
idea of what democracy is. There are several types of democracy and each is
different. According to the English dictionary, democracy is " a government by
the people; especially: rule of the majority by a government in which the
supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or
indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically
held free elections and the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class
distinctions or privileges (Webster’s Dictionary). It is a common view among

American politicians that maintaining democracy in Latin America could be
achieved through holding honest elections, installing civilian governments, and
preventing military coups (Millett). Although Latin America participates in some
type or form of free elections, that does not necessarily constitute a
legitimate democracy that represents the people. The power is not necessarily
vested in the people in Latin America but with the elected officials. Latin

American democracy and United States democracy are uniquely different and
therefore they are not comparable by the same definition of democracy. The
difference results from many factors. In large part, the Latin America is unique
because of its Iberian heritage, history, and tradition (Millett). The conquest
of Latin America by Spain and the methods of rule and traditions have largely
influenced the development of Latin American democracy. The Spanish mercantile
system and the methods and practices it produced have had a direct impact on all
the factors that help sustain democracy. The two main factors in Latin American
democracy are the society and the economics. Colonial ideas of fueros, caste
systems, and church ideologies during the inquisition, have influenced Latin

America socially. Economically Spanish mercantilism has made Latin America
dependent on outside resources and has given rise to corruption and a loss of
trust in the government. In order to have sustainable democracy it is necessary
to have the support of the people. The society must support the idea of
government in which, "there is an absence of hereditary or arbitrary class
distinctions or privileges." Fueros, caste, and church ideologies still impact
present day Latin American society. During Spanish rule, government officials
and military officials had "fueros," or special immunity from prosecution.

Fueros still exist today in Latin America and give no recourse for complaints of
the population. This situation instills hopelessness in the society overall. A
democracy cannot exist, even through elections, if the elite rules it. In order
for a democracy to be sustained, the government must be kept in check if not
through constitutional powers then the people must check it. A democracy should
have an educated populace; people should constantly question their surroundings
to keep a government in check (Aristotle). Latin America must be capable of
producing a literate and educated population. Church control of information and
perhaps the desire of the elite to keep the population under control have kept a
large majority of the Latin American population illiterate. Without education,
the population lacks the means of self-analysis and therefore no political
ambitions or ideas to make the government better. A strong economy is a major
factor in sustaining democracy. Through mercantilism, the Latin American economy
was and continues to be, reliant on imported manufactured goods. In the
twentieth century, Latin America continues to be a source for resources, not
only in raw materials but also labor. It has become a specialty producer of
foodstuff, such as coffee, for other nations of the world. This specialization
in certain crops has made Latin America less diversified and has contributed to
the lack of ability for the countries to feed their people. Urbanization is
another factor threatening democracy. Many Latin American countries have only
one major city. With the influx of people, to the city, a demand for services
grow, and in return drains budgets. A lack of money causes social programs to be
cut and in turn, this produces unemployment, social conflict, and political
instability. In order to meet growing needs, the government must be able to
reduce spending in military areas and other unneeded programs. Many of the Latin

American militaries are unwilling to sustain budget cuts, and a majority of the
people have no desire to reduce popular social programs. Governments that do
attempt to strengthen their economies using budget reductions do so at great
risk to their political careers. Other nations have endured during and after
mercantilism. To what degree they have succeeded differs greatly. South Asia and

Latin America were both part of a large empire and each now are independent and
are ruled by some form of democracy. Britain ruled much of South Asia under
mercantilism. After independence, India underwent great industrialization but in

Latin America, industrialization received little attention or investment.

India’s industrialization has brought employment, greater self-reliance, and
has instilled confidence in the government. Although much of South Asia was
ruled by the British under Mercantilism, British law was strictly enforced and
eventually all subjects of the British crown were considered equals in
citizenship and rights. In contrast, Latin America was, and is still to a great
degree, governed by law that applies to few of the ruling elite and military
leaders. This lack of equal treatment under the law undermines faith in the
government and gives little recourse to the common individual (Millett). Faith
in the economy and social equality produces faith in the government. Although

South Asia and Latin America have coalition governments, South Asia has a more
educated population compared to Latin America. After independence, much of South

Asia introduced education reforms that resulted in a dramatic increase in
literacy in a relative short time. Latin America still struggles with education
reform and in some instances, education is not a priority. Much of South Asia
was given Guidance and goals to achieve before independence was granted. Latin

American independence came in chaos with the fall of the throne in Spain and
constant conflict by the caudillos to fill the vacuum of power. Although South

Asia and Latin America are entirely different regions, they were both ruled
under a mercantilist system. Latin America was ruled under a medieval
mercantilism and South Asia under Victorian mercantilism. The results after
independence were dramatic. South Asia governed with guidance, equality under
the law, and a strong investment with foreign encouragement in industry gave
them the ability to build and sustain democracy. In contrast, Latin America was
drained of resources, the indigenous population exploited, and little investment
put into the economy. This gave rise to Elitist warlords vying for power
constantly and the continued exploitation of the population. Little interest is
evident in the reform of the economies or educational reforms of Latin America.

Power is the only wealth a Latino can achieve and this concept seems to persist
in the Latin American society today. Until the idea of unity and helping ones
fellow man takes hold, Latin America is likely to struggle with democracy.

Millett’s interpretation has many good points but takes some out of context.

The civil-military relations is a not a stand-alone point. It is part of the
society ideas of feuros and caste. Millett does not explain how military ability
to dominate politics has declined or how military support of democracy is
necessary. A military is not necessary for democracy, only if a military exists
does it become a factor. Corruption is not the prominent threat to democracy.

Corruption exists in United States politics but is not visible, unlike Latin

American politics. Millett states, " military dictatorships, not democratic
governments, were the prevailing model," most of these were encouraged and
even supported by the United States not the society. Although the situation in

Latin America is fundamentally different from 30 years ago and the cold war has
ended, the threats to democratic institutions have not diminished. The threats
are replaced with new and old ones such as narcotics and insurgencies. Millett
failed to accurately go into all the cultural reasons democracy could not be
sustained, such as, the role of the church control of information and the lack
of an educated population. This is one of the necessary ingredients of a
democracy. Possible solutions to sustain democracy in Latin America are many.

Several questions must be answered in order to decide what the solutions are. Is
democracy necessary? Perhaps democracy is not necessary in Latin America and
foreign intervention should be prohibited. As in China, perhaps the economic
strength of Latin America will dictate the type of government. Can people have
and maintain inalienable rights without democracy? Truly, democracy is not the
only solution. Inalienable rights could be protected without democracy. Can
financial support sustain democracy? Money cannot change history or cultures, if
another country builds a road, the police are still corrupt. If there were but
one solution, it would be to change the culture. If a culture does not support
democracy then no amount of money, political pressure, or propaganda will bring
about the factors to sustain it. Culture influences all the ingredients
necessary for democracy to survive, from society to the economy.


"Democracy." Webster’s New Comp[act Dictionary. Ed. 1995. Loomis,

Louise. ARISTOTLE On Man in the Universe. New York: Random House, 1943. Millett,

Richard. "Is Latin American Democracy Sustainable?."