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Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Bolsonaro supporters dressed in national colours with flags in a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on November 4, 2022.

Ivan Abreu / ZUMA
Carlos Ruckauf*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.


Parliament sacked him, legitimately, and his equally Marxist vice-president, Dina Boluarte, is now using force to suppress her own, former supporters. The crisis is still on-going in both countries.

Challenging the Supreme Court in Argentina

In the United States, the Republican Party is divided between moderates and radicals. They needed several rounds of voting to choose a speaker for the House of Representatives, because they have yet to resolve in their minds the presidential elections of two years ago, the assault on the Capitol, and ongoing investigations into the incident.

What does the government want with a parliamentary spectacle that cannot prosper?

We should see these as alarm calls. When the adversary becomes an enemy, democracy begins to shake and irrational violence replaces ideological debates.

Here in Argentina, the refusal to obey a Supreme Court recommendation and the government's bid to sack some of its magistrates are also alarming signs of intolerance and a refusal to abide by the rules. What does the government want with a parliamentary spectacle that cannot prosper?

One of the main attackers on the government side is Leopoldo Moreau, a radical supporter of the vice-president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He has accused Supreme Court judges of acting as instruments of the conservative opposition.

The government's parliamentary group will clearly fail to garner enough support to bring charges against the magistrates, as it did before in other spats with the Court. But is this the start of a bid to reject the results of the general elections, due in October, and pave the way for preventing the winner from taking office in December?

Image of Peruvian citizens wearing traditional Peruvian clothing, and demonstrating in the streets of Lima, Peru.

Peruvian citizens demonstrated in the streets of Lima against President Dina Boluarte in Lima, Peru, on January 25, 2023.

Hector Adolfo Quintanar Perez/ZUMA

A political abyss

The signs are that an opponent of Kirchner and her supporters will become president later this year. No governing party can expect to win elections when the vast majority of voters are seeing runaway inflation destroy their stable revenues. The Economy Minister Sergio Massa is using all the means at his disposal to halt runaway inflation and even build the base for later investments and renewed revenues. The efforts are enormous, but with limited results.

There is no drama or tragedy in ceding power in a democracy.

Neither President Alberto Fernández nor Vice-President Kirchner believe in Massa's path. He is being tolerated for now, which can only undermine his success and thus of his possible presidential candidacy.

Millions of Argentines will likely vote "against" rather than "for" something or someone in October, though the rise of outside candidates like the libertarian Javier Milei may further disperse the parliamentary vote. Whoever becomes president will in any case likely face a legislature controlled by opponents. This makes a democratic pact necessary to ensure that political forces can work together, over and above ideological divisions.

There is no drama or tragedy in ceding power in a democracy. Temporarily, some people lose and others win, but accepting that transition ensures stability and avoids violence on the street. Turning political cracks into an abyss is certainly no answer.

*Ruckauf is a former vice president and foreign minister of Argentina.

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