Friday, July 02, 2004

Latin America – The Strongman May Return: Demoracray Doesn’t Fill Latins’ Pocketbooks

According to a U.N. survey, many in Latin America long for the day when economic growth was better under the Strongman. Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela are all experiencing unrest, some even to the point that there are calls to force a president from office. “People don’t feel that democracy has improved their economic situation or made them safer…”

> In the Andean nations, which account for one-third of South America's population, only 37.3 percent of the people polled for the report said they were democrats; the rest were either ambivalent to democracy or openly opposed to it.

The Andes represent a general trend in Latin America, where 54.7 people say they would support an authoritarian government if it helped them financially. More than 60 percent cited unemployment, low wages, and poverty as the region's main problems. "There is less support for democracy here than in any other region in the world," says Mr. Caputo. "Democracy in Latin America is at risk. Intuition indicates that there are dangers, and our data confirms it."

Sometimes strongmen backfire on a population, such as in Venezuela, where “Chavez has manipulated the Constitution to stay in power rather than helping the economy.”

According to the World Bank, Latin economies are expanding, but unemployment remains high because the expansion is in “industries that don’t employ many, such a mining.” Thus the impression of unfairness resonates to the 54 percent living below the poverty line. In this case, “growth is as dangerous as non-growth.”

Economic problems could be attributed to the inexperience of leaders that have had little or no experience in governance. “Disillusioned voters” have punished traditional parties by voting in political outsiders. The result is choosing “…unprepared presidents who know how to campaign as presidents and do not govern.”

El Caique or strongman is a time-honored tradition that kept millions in bondage for centuries. Latin Americans haven't given representative elected democracy a sufficient chance. Even the United States had to struggle for decades before we achieved the level of governance that we now enjoy. It would be a shame if the strong man returns.

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