When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Members of an anti-epidemic volunteer team at Dalian Ocean University, northeastern China, deliver supplies to quarantined students and teachers.
Members of an anti-epidemic volunteer team at Dalian Ocean University, northeastern China, deliver supplies to quarantined students and teachers.

Welcome to Friday, where a cop dies in the aftermath of Capitol mayhem, Boeing's fraud won't fly, and Norway hits an electrifying record. Meanwhile, Les Echos weighs the possibility that Asian populations are genetically more resistant to COVID.

SPOTLIGHT: FROM PINOCHET TO TRUMP, WHEN DEMOCRACY IS UNDER ATTACK

A dictator-in-waiting orchestrates a violent assault on the seat of government. Shots are fired. A stunned world watches what most agree is an attack on democracy itself, a rejection of what had long seemed self-evident: that a nation's health and prosperity depend on an orderly transfer of power from one elected leader to another.

Two days after the stunning scenes in Washington, I am reminded of those grainy images from a different historical chapter in another nation's capital, Santiago, Chile. It was nearly a half century ago when military forces, under the command of General Augusto Pinochet, launched their assault on the La Moneda presidential palace on Sept. 11, 1973.

In doing so, Pinochet and his collaborators toppled the democratically elected government of then-president Salvador Allende, who died in the mayhem and was quickly replaced by a military junta. Next came a wave of excruciating human rights abuses and a dictatorship, under Gen. Pinochet, that would last for 17 long years.

Chile was eventually able to reestablish a democratic system of government; but even now, more than three decades after the infamous strongman finally stepped aside, his legacy lives on. And while some credit Pinochet for planting the seeds of Chile's relative economic success, many others see him as a stain that's still in need of removal.

That ongoing debate was put to the test in a referendum last October on whether to scrap the country's constitution. And when the votes were tallied, the result wasn't even close. Nearly 80% of voters chose the apruebo (approve) option, backing efforts to dump the 40-year-old document despite uncertainties about how or when a new constitution will be drafted.

The result of the plebiscite was even more remarkable given that — as backers of the status quo point out — the constitution has, for all intents and purposes, already been rewritten thanks to numerous reforms and amendments by the democratic governments that succeeded Pinochet. But any lingering whiff of authoritarianism in the document was enough to welcome the opportunity to write a whole new constitution.

The assault on the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, who had refused to guarantee a seamless transfer of power after his defeat to Joe Biden, seems to mark a turning point in the American political system. And perhaps there are lessons to cull from Chile's recent history.

Unlike the United States, with its proud, uninterrupted tradition of democracy and a 234-year-old constitution that most Americans treat with a "holy book" kind of reverence, most Chileans understand that theirs is an imperfect system, one in need of constant revision and improvement.

And as an American who spent years living and working there, it was something I always admired. It stood in sharp contrast with the U.S. political mindset, where faith in the perceived genius of the system has inoculated it from meaningful and necessary reform.

The dictatorship in Chile, for its part, shattered any illusions about the inevitability of the systems of government that both preceded and eventually replaced it. In some ways, this was a good thing.

From voter suppression strategies to district redlining, corporate campaign financing, and an anachronistic electoral-college system that twice, in the span of just 16 years, sent men to the White House who failed to win the popular vote, there is much that can and should be improved in America's system of democracy.

Doing so, however, requires a bit of humility. Seeing its very seat of government breached was an ugly and embarrassing scene for the United States, and shocking for those around the world who look to the country as a model of democracy.

Fortunately, unlike back in Santiago all those years ago, it won't mark the start of a brutal dictatorship. Still, America would do well to see the riot in the Capitol for what it was: an urgent warning, and an opportunity to start making improvements to its system of democracy now, before it really is too late.

— Benjamin Witte

Keep reading... Show less
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Ideas

García Márquez And Truth: How Journalism Fed The Novelist's Fantasy

In his early journalistic writings, the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez showed he had an eye for factual details, in which he found the absurdity and 'magic' that would in time be the stuff and style of his fiction.

Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez reads his book

J. D. Torres Duarte

BOGOTÁ — In short stories written in the 1940s and early 50s and later compiled in Eyes of a Blue Dog, the late Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia's Nobel Prize-winning novelist, shows he is as yet a young writer, with a style and subjects that can be atypical.

Stylistically, García Márquez came into his own in the celebrated One Hundred Years of Solitude. Until then both his style and substance took an erratic course: touching the brevity of film scripts in Nobody Writes to the Colonel, technical experimentation in Leaf Storm, the anecdotal short novel in In Evil Hour or exploring politics in Big Mama's Funeral. Throughout, the skills he displayed were rather of a precocious juggler.

Keep reading... Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch Video Show less
MOST READ