Weak institutions endanger democratic rule, but there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Author:Haskel, David


Democratic gains made in the 80s in Latin America as the cold war came to an end and military regimes throughout the area gave way to freely elected governments that are now under severe strain due to a lack of strong institutions, experts warn.

"In some countries, the president rides roughshod over the Congress and judiciary," said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. "There is greater institutional balance in countries like Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica. In contrast, today in Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, the Congress and judiciary are mere instruments of executive authority," he told Latin Trade.

Juan Pablo Lohle, a former Argentine ambassador to the Organization of American States, Brazil, and Spain, and current director of the Centro de Estudios Politicos Estrategicos Internacionales (CEPEI) think-tank in Buenos Aires, agreed. Rather than building solid democratic institutions, many nations in the area are simply redirecting supreme power from yesterdays chieftains to today's self-centered political parties, he posited.

"From the 80s onward, political parties have been slowly becoming hegemonic powerhouses," he told Latin Trade. "As such, they sense they have to control everything. The result is authoritarian governments." Unfortunately, this has deep roots in the region. "Caudillismo [strongman rule] forms part of Latin American history," Lohle said.

In his book, The Origins of Our Authoritarian and Unproductive Culture, the late Argentine Congressman and historian Jose Garcia Hamilton wrote that from the onset, there was a strong disregard of law throughout the region. In colonial days, Spain would simply look the other way and give viceroys and other envoys full carte blanche as long as the boats foil of riches continued to sail from the Americas. This gave rise to a breed of greedy, self-serving rulers with total disregard for the constraints of lawfulness, with its check-and-balance institutions and separation of powers.

Perception that local rule had...

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