Is It Still Democracy?

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Photo: Gene Han/flickr
Photo: Gene Han/flickr

In January 1990, ran the article: “South America: Democracy Triumphs.” But is it still really the case?

Over the past few years a new game has developed in South America: how to stay in power even if your mandate is over. Recently, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed legislation calling for a national referendum on amending the Constitution to allow him to seek office for a third time.

The overall picture is much darker. Out of 18 Latin American countries, only four have had a president that actually respected the term of his mandate: Mexico, Uruguay, Honduras and Guatemala. The last political coup d’état in Honduras took place when former president Manuel Zelaya tried to amend his country’s constitution to stay in office.

According to the Democracy Index of the Economist, only Costa Rica and Uruguay are the only full democracies on the continent. The rest are divided between the categories “Flawed Democracy” and “Authoritarian Regime” with Cuba closing the South American ranking.

Why does no one question the behavior of those seizing power ‘legally,’ but condemn acts such as the last military coup in Honduras? Does seizing power through a legal way, a constitutional referendum, make it more ‘democratic’ than seizing the power by force?

And why do citizens allow this to happen? According to a survey published in 2004, only 53 percent of the South Americans still believe in democracy. Does that mean that in South America, no one dares to fight for a true democracy? If this is the case, history has been proven right: starting a democracy when there is no popular demand will only benefit the elites and is therefore condemned to fail.

From the ISN Digital Library

How to Strengthen Democracy in Latin America

Statehood and Governance: Challenges in Latin America

A Region Divided: Transformation towards Democracy and Market Economy in Latin America and the Caribbean

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