Democratic institutions face difficult times in winning back the confidence they have lost in the recent past in many countries worldwide. The ruling political parties and congress have not inspired confidence in the general public. Incumbent presidents have abused the democratic space by clinging to power and making amendments in the constitution so that they can remain in power. As a result, the electorate is grumpy about their democratic institutions and the political parties. Dictatorial and authoritative leadership has threatened the social fabric, democracy’s survival, and economic performance. This paper will compare the state of democracy in two countries in Latin America – Uruguay and Venezuela, where the first one has succeeded in instilling full democracy while the latter has an authoritarian form of leadership.
Democratic institutions in Uruguay
Historically, Uruguay has a healthy democratic system of governance that upholds political rights and the rule of law. According to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Uruguay’s democratic score is 8.38 (Kneuer, 2016). The country has made great strides towards social inclusion and legal equality. When Julio Maria Sanguinetti rose to the presidency in 1985, one of the government’s key reforms was economic reforms and consolidation of democracy since the country had been under military rule for a couple of years (Fried, 2016). Other significant reforms that led to successful democratic space in Uruguay included an improved electoral system, enhanced social security, good education, and public safety.
One of the pillars of democracy in Uruguay is the free and fair electoral process. The country has an elaborate and well-constituted electoral court that oversees all the national election offices established in every regional department. The electoral court comprises nine members who are appointed by both houses of parliament. This is a sign of impartiality to ensure that the electoral process is free and fair in a country where voting is compulsory.
Political pluralism in Uruguay has created a multiparty system that is open and competitive for all candidates. The voters’ political choices are generally free from external influence employed by forces outside the political arena. However, the minority groups of African descent, which accounts for only 8 percent of Uruguay’s population, are underrepresented in government positions (Htun, 2016). A grass-roots campaign advocating for full recognition of the indigenous people in the national government has been agitating for their rights. Additionally, women’s representation in the national government is generally low, and the parliament has enacted a quota system that will increase the number of women leaders in the national government.
The president, who is the head of government, and the freely elected national legislative representatives determine the policies that would be implemented by the government without undue external interference. Proper systems of governance have ensured that corruption cases are low compared to the set regional standards. Those found guilty of corruption-related cases face severe punishment regardless of their political affiliations or positions. This is an indicator that the institutions charged with prosecuting corruption cases are potent and effective. The transparency law was enacted to ensure that the leaders at local and national levels are accountable to the electorate.
There is freedom of expression and belief in Uruguay, which ensures civil liberties are respected. The media environment is relatively open, and the constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Freedom of religion is also enacted in the constitution, where individuals are free to exercise their religious faiths in public and private. Additionally, the curriculum used in the education system is free from broad political indoctrination. The citizens are also free to express their personal views on their country’s political environment without fear of surveillance or intimidation.
Uruguay’s judiciary enforces the rule of law, which is independent of political and civil influence. Individuals in senior political positions have no moral authority to intimidate those judges who are committed to upholding the rule of law. However, there has been a backlog of individuals seeking justice for human rights violations committed by the military regime whose term came to an end in 1985 (Htun, 2016). A special prosecutor’s office, which was created to fast-track resolving these cases, has not made any significant progress. Some of the individuals who are investigating human rights violations have reported having received death threats. In general, there remains a lot to be done in this particular field.
Democratic institutions in Venezuela
Venezuela has an authoritarian leadership system that does not respect the rule of law and democratic space. According to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Uruguay’s democratic score is 2.88 (Kneuer, 2016). The oil-rich country has suffered poor governance for a long time because of poor public policies, robust corruption, extensive mismanagement, crime, and lack of respect to the rule of law. Flawed electoral processes have led to the progressive collapse of the democratic structures in the country. The political crisis under the leadership of Nicolas Maduro -the designated heir, has been tumultuous, and the country is edging into a debt default. The government’s effort to silence the opposition has resulted in significant repercussions and uproar from the general public. The ruling by the Supreme Court to strip the national assembly of its constitutional duties was one of the many schemes used by the executive to overpower and control the legislature (Riera, 2017). These are some of the vices being propagated by Nicolas Maduro’s administration and were initiated by Hugo Chavez.
The socialist revolution of the 21st century brought a ray of hope because it promised democracy to the less privileged, the outcasts, and those who had been neglected for more than 40 years when the elite oppressed them. When Hugo Chavez rose into power in 1998, it meant that bipartisanship and inadequate political systems would come to an end (Block, 2015). However, this administration brought more frustrations to Venezuela’s people because the president led his team in building a political process over the already existing system, thus establishing a parallel state that was more corrupt and hyper bureaucratic. Notably, the elite system of government that Hugo Chavez fought hard to displace is the same regime that sponsored his presidential candidature, thus maintaining the status quo.
The democratic institutions in this Latin nation have been rendered powerless after the current political regime wiped out all their constitutional mandates. The executive controls the national assembly, and all the legislative procedures have experienced undue interference. The office of the Attorney General has been abused severally, and all the vital democratic institutions dismantled. Additionally, the Supreme Court is equally discredited, and the ruling regime uses it to advance its despotic measures of governance. The executive has used the national assembly to pass laws that promote the authoritarian exercise of power.
The transition from a weak democracy to military authoritarianism was actualized when Hugo Chavez rose into power. Chavez worked closely with the military regime and placed a lot of confidence in them. The military has been used to violate human rights and involvement in other illegal activities that have adversely affected Venezuela’s economy (Block, 2015). Massive deaths, detention without trial of hundreds of civilians, and physical injuries have marred citizens’ way of life in this nation.
The difference in democracy levels in Venezuela and Uruguay
The authoritarian form of leadership in Venezuela has robbed its citizens of their democratic rights over the years. Hugo Chavez has slowly turned the country’s top leadership into personality dictators and the nation into a quasi-democratic authoritarian system controlled by the military (Block, 2015). Although Venezuela is one of the top oil-rich countries globally, it cannot feed itself and fix its problems because of the flawed governing regime. On the other hand, Uruguay has held a robust democratic system since independence because the ex-British colonies dominate it (Mainwaring & Pérez-Liñán, 2015). This country has established robust institutionalized systems because it had a historical legacy of functioning democratic institutions. The democracy index has placed this nation among the world’s top premier democracies.
Many Latin American countries had walked a long journey searching for democracy, particularly from the 1970s when despotic regimes were in power. Uruguay has enjoyed the fruits of democracy for the last four decades because it has developed immunity to coups threats that occurred in the past. Adopting zero tolerance to unconstitutional amendments that favor the incumbent presidents so that they cling to power for an extended-term has never been successful. On the other hand, Venezuela has experienced a continued decay in democratic and civil liberties because the presidents who have been democratically elected have used their positions to perpetuate corruption and utter disobedience to the rule of law. It is likely that if this trend continues, the country may not realize any meaningful strides towards democracy.
Block, E. (2015). Political communication and leadership: Mimetisation, Hugo Chavez, and the construction of power and identity. Routledge.
Fried, A. G. (2016). Sealing and unsealing Uruguay’s transitional politics of oblivion: Waves of memory and the road to justice, 1985–2015. Latin American Perspectives, 43(6), 103-123.
Htun, M. (2016). Inclusion without representation in Latin America: Gender quotas and ethnic reservations. Cambridge University Press.
Kneuer, M. (2016). E-democracy: A new challenge for measuring democracy. International Political Science Review, 37(5), 666-678.
Mainwaring, S., & Pérez-Liñán, A. (2015). Cross-currents in Latin America. Journal of Democracy, 26(1), 114-127.
Riera, M. P. (2017). Venezuela: The decline of democracy. Development, 60(3-4), 174-179.