Is democracy being lost in Latin America
Updated: Aug 15
New political and economic elite acts outside the law in Latin America. Is democracy being lost on the continent? Venezuela has had a decisive influence on the path of uncertainty that Latin America is going through. Internally, unions and analysts are looking for formulas for a partial recovery despite not glimpsing a change in the leadership of the country. Today there is a debate about the dilemma between "left and right" and what lies ahead for our countries.
by Francisco Olivares
Freedom Voice Reports
In Venezuela, there is a debate about how the productive factors, in connection with civil society, can achieve an economic recovery regardless of whether an autocratic regime continues to operate in the country, which does not abide by the laws and human and economic freedoms. These groups aspire to a return, even partial, of the economic advances that were lost in 22 years of Chavismo.
The economist Asdrúbal Oliveros, who promoted an important meeting with different analysts at the recent Ecoanalítica forum, "Perspectives 2022", reflected on what he has already discussed on his Twitter account:
"A feature that I observe a lot around here and that worries me, is that of many people anchored to a past, to a country that no longer exists. People in permanent longing. While this is happening, the vision of the future, thinking and dreaming the possible country is lost. The one who will come. Recovering #economía of #Venezuela requires decades of uninterrupted growth, even if the scenario is optimistic."
However, at the forum several analysts projected economic growth for Venezuela of 9% by 2022.
They also indicated that this would occur after eight consecutive years of decline, with a reduction in economic activity of 87% in the period 2013-2021, according to data from the International Monetary Fund.
Even so, less optimistic is this body, since it points out that the economic rebound will not exceed 1.5% in 2022.
Ecoanalítica analysts estimate that recovering the economy, at least the one it had two decades earlier, will cost about 35 billion dollars. But what is not clear is the how.
How if the same, undemocratic regime that has brought Venezuela to the level of one of the poorest countries on the continent continues?
How can one overcome, at least partially, the damage caused?
Ultimately, the unanswered question is
whether the ruling leadership is interested in this recovery;
or as some point out,
if they believe that keeping the population in poverty and dependent on the state is the formula of the "new left" to remain in power indefinitely.
In this context, the continent is debating the crisis of liberal democracies and the extent to which it is worth sacrificing freedoms in terms of the economic.
Because what has happened in Venezuela with Chavismo has had and continues to have an important impact in Latin America. The Venezuelan regime is described as a model aligned with the most severe autocracies on the planet. A fact offered during the Ecoanalítica forum, and a reality that other Latin American countries are experiencing, is that the so-called "black economy", which feeds on mafias and the black market, in 2021 already exceeded 22% of the country's income.
Left and right
The debate about the new left and the polarization that has deepened in Latin America has a turning point in Venezuela marked with the arrival of Hugo Chávez, but that spread to the continent.
To analyze what is happening in the region, the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, held on April 26, the Forum "Right and Left in the XXI Century", in which important spokespersons of Latin American politics and academia participated, in order to debate the crisis that liberal democracies live in the continent and deduce where countries with frequent political conflicts are going, economic and social, submerged in a strong polarization that prevents consensus to solve them.
All countries are capitalist
For Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, a lawyer and former Bolivian minister, who is in exile, director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy for six years, the twenty-first century shows that it is a capitalist century. All countries are located within that framework. In the twenty-first century, the what is no longer being discussed, but the how.
Sánchez Berzaín highlights that this is a globalized world and we are in the midst of a technological revolution. What is being discussed is how this capitalist, globalized and technological world is going to be managed, and there are two options: the one that prioritizes respect for freedom, the nature of fundamental and human rights that is represented by the concept of democracy; and the other is the way of governing that concentrates power in a few hands at the cost of sacrificing freedom and human rights.
"There we can find Russia that has just been recognized as a dictatorship; North Korea; or China that is a pre-capitalist dictatorship because it has in the more than one thousand 300 million Chinese a dome of millionaires, a quasi-middle class and the great layer of people who are in a pre-capitalist stage who live in conditions of almost slavery, "he said.
In Latin America, he recalled the dictatorship of Cuba, the oldest in the region, sixty-three years old, which has expanded its methodology and control to Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, and which enjoys the support of governments that he called "paradittorial".
Cuba led the changes of the new left
The founder and executive director of Archivo Cuba, María Werlau, who has documented the control that Havana has exercised over Venezuela, indicated that it currently deprives the model of the Sao Paulo Forum, devised by Fidel Castro with Gramscian inspiration. This model aims to reconstitute the left after the collapse of Soviet communism. It was inaugurated in the 90s and gained strength only when Castro managed to recruit Chávez, led him to the presidency of Venezuela and he allocated immense financial resources from oil for Castro's expansionist deed.
Werlau stressed that "power is reached by electoral means and that democratic institutions are dismantled from within. Authoritarian mafia-type states are installed, whose elites project themselves indefinitely into power based on state capitalism, corruption and criminal activities."
"Socialist central planning is only to keep people in poverty dependent on the government. Reduced government elites monopolize almost all the capital by nurturing millionaire accounts in tax havens and take over capitalist companies," he said.
"As the populist model self-destructs economically, these elites increasingly require external sources and illegal activities. Its permanence in power depends on asymmetric tactics that Cuba has been perfecting for six decades with its political police and intelligence apparatus," Werlau said.
In the Castro-Chavista bloc, the analyst includes Nicaragua, Bolivia and several Caribbean islands linked to twenty-first century socialism and regional integration known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Peoples' Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP).
The executive director of Archivo Cuba explained that this bloc has strong friends in Mexico and Argentina; strong alliances with authoritarian regimes such as Iran, Russia, China, North Korea and with non-state actors such as subversive groups and criminal and drug cartels in which they share strategies, intelligence, technology, networks for drug trafficking, money laundering. All rely on international organizations and collaborate extensively in economic matters. Their shared goal is to create a multipolar world to confront the might of the U.S. and liberal democracies.
Werlau stressed that the irony of this new stage is that the regional leader of this left, Cuba, managed to turn the United States into its greatest enabler and its main source of income. During the eight years of Barack Obama, the Cuban regime was legitimized politically and diplomatically and economic sanctions were relaxed to allow material aid, travel and transfers to Cuban-Americans and the United States received almost 400,000 Cuban immigrants. In the 5 months of Joe Biden's administration, the US has admitted 80,000 Cubans, loosening the pressures for political change and guaranteeing the regime an important flow of income.
He referred to the current boom of luxury constructions in Cuba while its social services reach only 0.8% of the total investments of the Cuban State between 2020 and 2021. In addition, investment in hotel and rental properties was allocated almost 50% of state investments. "This is how ostentatious five-star hotels for foreigners emerge while the country falls apart," he said.
The left resurfaced with the economic boom
María Paula Romo, former minister of the Government of Ecuador during the period of Lenin Moreno, highlighted in her speech how, at the end of the last century and the beginning of 2000, the left in Latin America ceased to be a symbolic, contestatory, anti-status quo force, and had several governments in the region; being the starting point the election of Chavez in Venezuela in 1998.
For Romo, the United Nations Program's 2004 report on democracy in Latin America highlighted a vital aspect when it posed a question to the continent: "How much poverty do our democracies endure?"
"Democracies were about to say that they could no longer stand poverty and inequality and that's what happened. The leftist governments offered people to skip the rules, the rights, the freedoms, and the countries and peoples of the Americas accept those proposals," Romo said.
The Ecuadorian analyst indicated that today the cycle is repeated with conditions aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic. "Today we are again as in the time of that report; but in a worse situation, because not only is there poverty and inequality, but the figures of violence have multiplied in the continent," he said.
He recalled that when the left came to govern in Latin America at the beginning of 2000, that period coincided with high commodity prices, taken advantage of by those governments with a policy of aggressive economic indebtedness mainly with China. Hence, the peoples associated the coming to power of the left with economic bonanza.
At that time, these governments developed social policies and programs, but they also generated a lot of corruption. "The authoritarianism that had not been seen on the continent for a long time returned with the use of the state for its own interests; in addition to the link with criminal economies, and illegal organizations," he emphasized.
Although in some countries there were later changes of governments that returned to democratic systems; those changes coincided with a period of economic contraction and covid-19. It is essential to analyze the impact of the pandemic in the region and its effect on the political system, governability and its reflection in the electoral ballot boxes. He stressed that Latin America has gone back almost 25 years in terms of poverty, malnutrition and inequalities. The current labor market for women is similar to the one our grandmothers experienced.
With only 8% of the world's population, Latin America had 32% of deaths due to the pandemic because structural problems emerged in the region, the weakness of their governments, as well as the precariousness of health systems to attend emergencies of that magnitude.
"The anger that has already been expressed in several of our countries with polarization and poverty is the perfect breeding ground for the generation of authoritarian populisms where the population is offered solutions in exchange for freedoms and democracy," Romo said.
"We have had two post-pandemic elections where this has been clearly expressed: Peru and Chile. What's going on with their governments? President Pedro Castillo of Peru has had to change his cabinet four times in six months, that is, it is not a government that has so far proved viable; and President Gabriel Boric in Chile has fallen from 50% to 36% acceptance in just seven weeks in power. I dare say that what is in crisis is not a dilemma of right or left. What is in crisis is politics, democracy, the capacity of the State to give answers to the population that has suffered a lethal blow in the last two years and that today is looking for solutions," Romo emphasized.
What do we have left?
In political terms, for Romo, the paradox that adds to the disappointments and disbelief in the democratic system is that governments that offered to break the rules in exchange for generating well-being, in effect, skipped them. Its leaders became very rich and the people became very poor. "Venezuela provoked a humanitarian crisis that this continent had never seen, only comparable to that of Syria. We can see it in their indicators of access to services, health, poverty, etc," he said.
In terms of liberal democracy, he says, there is a dilemma between those who trust democratic rules, and those who only use elections as a utilitarian mechanism to come to power and then not let go.
Outside the Law
The Ecuadorian warns that if democracy is not believed; if political parties, the left, the right or populism do not work, what remains is to live outside the system and the Law, and that is already happening in the Americas.
"The sector that is performing best after the pandemic is the illegal economy. Indicators of violence in the region have skyrocketed. Of the 50 most dangerous cities, with the most murders in the world, 47 are in the Americas and only seven in the United States. So our minimal possibilities of peaceful coexistence and the validity of the rule of law are at risk, beyond the political dilemma," Romo warned.
Is there a crisis of democracy?
Chavismo has certainly consolidated a political and economic elite that can maintain and operate from the alliances it maintains with authoritarian governments and their organizations, companies and figures of the global world that operate from any territory, whom sometimes the sanctions of the Western world do not reach.
How much poverty and lack of freedoms can our countries endure? It is the dilemma that now opens up not only in Venezuela and Latin America.
Anti-democratic currents operate in almost all democracies and their institutions. The dilemma is now whether world leaders will be able to confront the new dangers of these autocracies, which, like Russia's invasion and attacks on Ukraine, seek world dominance in politics, economics and military.