Over the last two centuries, all Latin American countries have attempted to institute democracy. Most retain a democratic structure today, regularly carrying out elections and having the populace influence their nation’s politics through them. Moreover, a wide variety of government types have existed in the region, positioned in many different locations on the left-right spectrum. However, most or all of them have encountered a widespread failure of democratic government in South America. This post aims to explore the reasons why both left-leaning, particularly socialist, and conservative governments have failed at consolidating democracy in the region.
Venezuela serves as an excellent example of why socialistic governments fail, both in Latin America and in general. Despite having vast natural wealth, the country has become extremely poor due to its centrally planned economy’s mismanagement. More generally, left-leaning governments in Latin America have often gone too far in expanding their powers. As a result, they reinforced their misconceptions and became distant from the citizens, eventually becoming authoritarian and often creating insurgencies after refusing to cede control. With the Latin American climate for violence created by cartels and other illegal activities, such problems undermined the citizens’ trust in democracy and its consequences.
Conservative governments faced a different problem, which was related to the history of the region. Latin America is renowned for its severe inequality, with small wealthy elite groups holding much more resources than the average citizen. Conservative governments would often preserve this system, among many other values. Their protection of the privileged group would lead them to become authoritarian, as well. Losing popularity due to the lack of positive change they brought, many became dictators, relying on the military and said wealthy groups to keep them in power out of self-interest. Ultimately, the underlying systems of Latin America need to be changed before it can benefit from democracy.