Latin America: Opportunities and Challenges

Latin America: Opportunities and Challenges

  • 25 May 2011

The “Jasmine Revolution” rocking the Middle East points to the challenge of making democracy a force for national unity rather than a source of weakness and insecurity. Latin America’s experience might help inspire and illuminate the region’s fascinating journey. Latin America’s experiment with effective “grassroots” democracy dates from the 1970s. The return of elected government resulted from popular discontent with authoritarian regimes unable to rise to the challenge of searing social and economic injustices magnified by recession and foreign debt. Constituent assemblies throughout the region enshrined universal rights and benefits demanded by an increasingly assertive electorate. However, adverse economic circumstances meant that state coffers ran dry, fueling spiraling inflation. At the same time, Latin America remained rife with border disputes, social unrest and political upheavals linked to nationalistic rivalries that reinforce the reactionary authoritarianism, despite being largely unburdened by ethnic or religious strife and benefiting from a shared linguistic and cultural heritage.

How then to ensure that the reinstatement of democratic institutions is effectively translated into social and economic democracy, i.e. that its benefits are widely shared? This has taken many forms. In the Andean highlands and Central America, where indigenous majorities were secularly excluded, demands for radical constitutional re-engineering (limited re-election, plebiscites, recall mechanisms and separate sphere of indigenous rights and prerogatives) reinforce popular sovereignty but risk transforming political adversaries into class enemies. Elsewhere – notably in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Mexico – the answers lay in a virtuous combination of macroeconomic stability and long-term social planning. Sustainable economic growth enables a growing proportion of GDP to go to redressing chronic social ills. The rise of a new emerging middle class is proof that economic growth and income distribution to alleviate poverty can reinforce each other rather than lead to conflict.

Grassroots democracy requires a revamped vision of regional integration ensuring that smaller economies also benefit from a regional mass market. Through regional parliaments, popular participation is ensured in order to avoid the “democratic deficit” associated with the European Union. The challenge of making democracy a reality is all the more acute when the costs of global imbalances fall disproportionately on weaker developing economies. Brazil has joined other emerging economies in forming novel “coalitions of the willing”. The South America–Arab Countries Summits (Brasilia 2005; Doha 2009; Lima 2011) is one of many South–South transatlantic partnerships spanning major geographical, cultural and political divides seeking to forge a common commitment to reforming global governance.

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Wednesday 25 May 2011

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Wednesday 25 May 2011

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