Latinoamérica21: Democracy: how and where are we going?


“They treat us like delinquents, but we are saving democracy.” These were the words a Brazilian woman said to a reporter after she was arrested for invading the country’s congressional headquarters. With that sentence, perhaps unconsciously, that woman summarized a narrative of the political post-truth that prevails in our region, but also, paradoxically, a truth about democracy: its constant dispute.

The different crises that followed the Second World War opened gaps that democracy, as a form of government, was unable to resolve. It is no coincidence that this Brazilian justifies herself by arguing that her actions defended democracy because, as for many citizens of the region, defending a form of democracy that solves these gaps is more important than ever.

Consequently, the current dispute is framed in a state of decline in democracies worldwide. Year after year since 2008, we have been moving backwards on the basic indicators of good democratic health. It is no coincidence that last year’s World Values ​​Survey, conducted in 77 countries, showed that the percentage of respondents who would support a leader who did not have to face his Congress or other political forces was 52%, against 38% in 2009. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, of respondents, less than half (47.4%) responded that democracy is important to their society.

In turn, in its most recent report on the global state of democracy, the organization IDEA International reinforces a trend that it has been measuring over the last five years, namely: that the number of countries moving towards authoritarianism is more than double those who are consolidating as democracies. The citizenry is voting for solutions, not for debates or rights or freedoms.

In this global context, Latin America also shows a tendency towards decline (despite being one of the regions with the most democratic systems). To illustrate this situation, IDEA Internacional highlights, among other things, institutional setbacks in Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala; fake news and disinformation as catalysts for polarization; the rise of mass protests over the ineffectiveness of social programs; and the consolidation of Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which joined Cuba as autocracies.

Unfortunately, these discoveries are not surprising, but at the same time they invite us to question ourselves about the actions and responsibilities for their deepening or solution. We have the advantage of being aware of the crisis and, consequently, of reflecting on issues and problems that are uncomfortable but urgent.

Are Latin American governments concerned with the well-being of the people or with their continuity in power? The “new progressive wave” will be judged either by the strength it had in breaking hegemonic pacts, or by having painted its social policies pink, green or purple. We must be alert to know whether the disturbances in Brazil and Peru are symptoms of the same regional illness or if they are conjunctural events in each country. But above all, we should be concerned that polarization has made us absolute enemies.

How is democracy doing? In decline. The paradox that results from this context of crisis is worrying (but fascinating as an object of study) because, just as that Brazilian citizen warned, defending democracy today seems to imply weakening its foundations, in order to gain a monopoly on its function and definition. . Our current struggle for democracy has a heroic dimension in which “saving democracy” implies symbolic and material violence that we may not know how to avoid.

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