Select Page

Latin America and Democracy

Latin America is growing up. At least that’s what this article should really be about. Instead, its a left leaning author’s summary of her book, which probably blames the United States for all of Latin America’s ills.

The United States has always “interfered” in Latin America’s affairs. Other than contributing to global warming in the Barbary Coast, this country’s first awkward steps in foreign policy centered around minimizing European influence in newly independent Latin America. Latin America has always been the United States’ little brother and it bothers us to see it grow up and not need us as much.

Latin America has gradually made a shift to the left over the last decade. Venezuela and Bolivia are written about the most because they are the most extreme. Venezuela’s oil wealth and Chavez’ idiocracy make him almost as good a story as Iran’s Ahmadinejadacrazyguy.

Outside of these extreme cases however, economic and political developments in Latin America have mostly been reasonable and welcome and the drift left has been exaggerated. Neoliberal market reforms in the 1990s, stressing fiscal discipline, austerity, lower taxes, deregulation and privatization of state-owned enterprises failed to alleviate some of Latin America’s most persistent problems: poverty, income disparity, unemployment and corruption. Much like Russia during the 1990’s, local elites gave market reforms a bad name by using privatization as a cover for corrupt crony capitalism. A drift left is a natural result of these failed policies.

Throughout Latin America’s history, support for government, regardless of form, has always ebbed and flowed with economic growth. Surging commodity prices have provided a lift to Latin America’s economies. Strong economies are in turn leading to surging nationalism throughout the region. Nationalism does not necessarily mean a wave of nationalizations however. The market model is still thriving in most of Latin America but strong economies are allowing Latin American governments to have a greater say in how the wealth is distributed and how national resources are being used. For the time being, they have leverage with the banks and governments of the developed world and they are using it.

Strong economies are also leading to the re-election of stable, left leaning governments that are able to focus more attention and money on education, health and infrastructure and rule of law. Even in flawed systems like Chavez’ Venezuela, democracy still enjoys strong support. For all the attention focussed on Chavez, Brazil is the real story. Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva was elected as the representative of the left-wing populist Worker’s Party. In office for five years and re-elected once however, he’s essentially followed the moderate economic policies of his predecessor, Fernando Enrique Cardoso.

Latin America is growing up. Get used to it.


From the article: “Altogether, enrollment in modern language courses — the figures exclude Latin and ancient Greek — stands at about 1.5 million, or about 2 1/2 times higher than in 1960. However, there are nearly five times as many college students.

That means while total enrollments are up, a smaller proportion of college students are taking language courses. In the 1960s, language courses accounted for about 16 percent of total course enrollments. The current figure is about half that.” For a laugh, click here and check out the headline.