After decades of dictatorship, democracy in Latin America seemed destined to take root through the 1990s. But from Brazil to Nicaragua, things can change quickly.
BUENOS AIRES — Even as Argentina struggles to resolve its fiscal deficit, a more disconcerting shortfall haunts the entire region: a democratic deficit.
In 1983, our country enjoyed that Churchillian "worst form of government" (except for all others), after the end of military rule due in part to the army's defeat in 1982. Initially it was alone in the region, though by the 1990s other countries had joined the democracy wave and there was a feeling that it was now bound to be the norm for the foreseeable future.
This developed to the extent that even in the worst crisis of our recent history (December 2001) we looked for collective solutions in the framework of institutional arrangements. At that time, the region adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter to consolidate what seemed already an irreversible choice for its countries.
A failed reform of the social security system has provoked a national crisis.
Similar initiatives followed in our preferential zone of cooperation: The Ushuaia Protocol (with a democratic clause for members and associates of Mercosur), and the Additional Protocol to the Constitutive Treaty of UNASUR on Commitment to Democracy. One could only conclude that the Southern Cone, South America and all continental states now maintained democracy to be a common value to share and safeguard.
And yet just when it seemed consolidated, signs of structural cracks appeared. There was the rapid political trial and destitution of Paraguay's president, Fernando Lugo, threatening sounds against the Bolivian President Evo Morales; the controversial 2009 removal of the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya; the increasingly authoritarian traits of the Bolivarian experiment in Venezuela and the more-than-questionable sacking of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff that forced institutions to act in an unacceptable way and pave the way for an essentially illegitimate successor government.
A demonstrator with the face painted in the colors of the Venezuelan flag — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA
Democracy is a value that must be preserved beyond ideologies or political affiliations. Dictators can emerge from the putative Left or Right, regardless of who or how they wish to be labeled and qualified.
The most recent events threatening regional democracy are those staining Nicaragua, as police and paramilitaries loyal to the regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo stamp out street protests with deadly force. A failed reform of the social security system has provoked a national crisis, as people have taken the opportunity to come out to denounce the couple's corruption and abuses, and demand their departure.
Neither Left nor Right have a monopoly of institutions or democracy.
Two and half months on and with multiple deaths, repression seems the only language the regime can use to "talk to" opposition movements. It has systematically failed to hear calls by the country's Bishops' Conference, the Organization of American States and the UN, and exacerbated the crisis. We see with Nicaragua that there is no democracy without a collective commitment to build it in every aspect of our lives.
Neither Left nor Right have a monopoly of institutions or democracy. Our duty as citizens is to not allow ourselves to be robbed of the right to choose our destiny, as has happened too often in the past. If it comes to that, we all know too well the tragic consequences that are bound to follow.