The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift

Thu, July 25, 2013

Kurt Weyland’s article in July’s Journal of Democracy analyzes the drift toward authoritarianism in Latin America. The turn away from democracy is surprising on at least two accounts. First, democracy had looked consolidated across the region—why now the move away from it? Second, the current trends are being driven by the political left, whereas historically authoritarian threats in Latin America have come from the right. Many Latin American countries remain solidly democratic: Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. But the outcome in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez steadily chipped away at the democratic regime, is a pattern emulated in Bolivia and Ecuador, Nicaragua and Honduras, and even Argentina is once again flirting with nondemocratic rule. In these latter countries, democracy is being or has been replaced by competitive authoritarianism, where true political competition no longer exists.

Weyland highlights the special threat emerging from the populist left, which he contrasts with its predecessor in political power, the populist right. The populist right was a movement on behalf of neoliberal economics and as such, its success was also its downfall. Necessarily anti-statist and propelled to power to solve acute crises, populations turned against neoliberals once economic stability was restored, and turned their focus to bread-and-butter concerns such as poverty and unemployment, which the political right was inherently handicapped in addressing. Democracy prevailed and incumbents were voted out of office. The door was opened for the populist left to rise to power on behalf of the underprivileged, build up the state on their behalf, and dismantle democratic institutions threatening their power.

Read the article at Journal of Democracy.

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