PRADO: A land of tomorrows stuck in yesterdays
Latin America has a complicated relationship with democracy, filled with plot twists, unbelievable comebacks of dictatorships, and a lack of democratic political culture.
This piece was published as part of the News’ 2022 Lifting Up Latinx Identity special issue, celebrating Latinx Heritage Month from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15.
Latin America has a complicated relationship with democracy, filled with plot twists, unbelievable comebacks of dictatorships, and a lack of democratic political culture. Despite the chaotic reality, the region is generally regarded as the most promising democratizing region, a land of very hopeful tomorrows that unfortunately has not yet come. With a disturbing past, it seems that the region keeps repeating its history because it hasn’t learned from it.
According to The Economist’s Democracy Index 2021 – Economist Intelligence Unit 59% of Latin America lives in a flawed democracy and 30% in hybrid regimes. But only 1.3% live in what is considered a “full democracy”(Uruguay and Costa Rica). The most concerning factor here is that this is not an isolated reality — there is a cycle of instability that pervades the region and repeats itself frequently.
Until 1991, Latin America counted 253 Constitutions and 133 coups’ of State. Thus, instability is the norm. If you analyze 253 Constitutions, considering that Latin America has 33 countries, it is an average of 7.6 Constitutions per country, which shows a weakness in the respect of the institutions and legal uncertainty, besides the clear lack of judicial stability. The very unfortunate number of the 133 Coup of State also demonstrates how sadly Latin Americans are used to this reality of authoritarianism. Especially remembering the bloody dictatorships in the recent past is disheartening to observe how the cycle doesn’t seem to be over yet. This melancholic relationship to its past is seen in cultural expressions, raising the question of when this cycle will be over, as it is possible to see in Caetano Veloso’s song Podres Poderes, one of the greatest names of Brazilian music: “Won’t we ever do nothing but to confirm // The incompetence of catholic America // Which will always need ridiculous tyrants? // Will, will, will, will // Will this stupid rhetoric of mine // Need to sound, need to be heard for a thousand years more?” (Translated version).
The low marks on political culture in 2021’s Democracy Index materialize the issue of instability in the past. The ranking gave the mark of 4.53, which is lower than the Global average (5.36) and 2020’s Latin American average (5.18). But how could you blame Latin Americans for not trusting democracy when they never quite experienced a stable form of government? The lack of political culture is extremely connected to the troubled past and the only form for it to change is by rethinking education about Democracy to its citizens.
It is worth noticing that most Latin American democracies emerged in the transition from the colonial past to the beginning of their own history. However, I am afraid this new chapter just reproduced several forms of exploitation from when they were colonies to their own people. Speaking in general terms, when the democratic transition occurred, they didn’t think about creating a system that would work for them; the general system of the United States Democracy was applied there, and so Latin American democracy didn’t start democratic at all. This 1982 quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” reflects on this topic: “Latin America neither wants nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration.”
Therefore, thinking about the future, I would go even further by stating that Latin Americans need to have the chance to dictate their own story by rethinking and building their own democracy. A democracy that is thought for their own climate, their own people, and their own rules. In honor of all that already died in Latin American dictatorships, I optimistically still see hope in the future because of my unquestionable faith in the resilience of the people that always come back ready to fight for another day.
“So many times I was killed many times I died nonetheless, I’m still here coming back to life” (Como la Cigarra, Elena Walsh, translated version).
“In spite of you
Tomorrow will be
I ask you
Where you will hide
From our happiness
How will you ban
When a cock insists
(Apesar de Você, Chico Buarque, translated version)
LUA PRADO is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College from Aracaju, Brazil. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.