Is Latin America a More Democratic Place Today Than It Was in 1945?

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Is Latin America a more democratic place today than it was in 1945?

Given the word and time restrictions, an in depth analysis of each Latin American country’s democratic progression across the time period would simply not be feasible. Instead I will attempt to look at Latin America’s progression as a whole and will provide examples of specific countries situations where relevant, in particular Venezuela.

Firstly it is important to distinguish between two ideas. One is democracy. For democracy to work, there must be free and fair elections. There must be more than one political party. The people of the country should have a good education so that they can make informed choices. They should share a common culture. All must accept the idea that everyone has equal rights. Finally, there must be rule by law, not by power. In other words there must be a separation of power, which means that the judiciary has to be a completely different body from the governing power of the country. Many nations in Latin America have had difficulty achieving democracy because all these factors are not present. The second idea is that of democratic culture. This involves the existence of constitutions, respect for rights, transparency when it comes to policies and governmental decisions and crucially, no corruption.

Latin America, when viewed as a whole, is generally viewed as a more democratic place now than in 1945 but it would be wrong to assert that during the past 68 years Latin American countries have undergone a steady increase in democracy. Brazil is a prime example of a country that has gone through fluctuations in democracy throughout the period.

Currently in Latin America, despite being in a state of relative poverty when compared to the rest of the world, the majority of countries have become, at least formally, electoral democracies. 13 countries are now classed as free, 8 as partially free, with only Cuba and Haiti being deemed as not. Venezuela, following the recent passing of Hugo Chavez, is at a crossroads on its journey to democracy. However many question how democratic a ruler Chavez actually was in his time as president.

One of two very important relationships to analyse is that of democracy and the level of development in a country or in this case Latin America. This leads on to what is one of the most stable relationships in social sciences, the positive correlation between high levels of wealth and established democracy (Lipset 1959). To back this statistic up, a democratic regime has never fallen after a country has reached a certain level of income per capita, which is said to be $6055 (Przeworski 2000).

In 1945 Latin America was still recovering from the economic shockwaves caused by the great depression of 1930. This global economic crisis meant that the rest of the world was not demanding any imports from Latin America. At the time these would have been mainly raw materials and this lack of export revenue for the South American countries had a detrimental effect on their situations in the majority of cases. During the decade or so after the great depression, around 1945, the effects will have trickled down and income per capita and GDP levels will have been significantly reduced. This will in turn have destabilised democracy attempts and can be viewed as a reason for why Latin America was less democratic then than it is now. Without the economic and financial means it is very difficult to achieve a fully functioning democracy. Of course it is worth pointing out that we are nearing the end of a fairly gruelling global economic downturn today but the consequences for Latin America are far less in this instance.

The economic growth in Latin America has been very modest throughout the 68 years in question but more importantly it has been volatile. Periods of prosperity in several countries have been followed by long periods of stagnation and even negative growth. This volatility can be seen in Latin...
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