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Effects of Democracy on Political and Social Development in Latin America


Ever since the Second World War, there has been a gradual shift from authoritarian political leadership to a democratic one. For proper democracy to be realized, a nation must have a capable and flexible government. In addition to that, there has to be a robust and vibrant civil society that holds the state responsible for democratizing the nation. Several developed states managed to make the transition to establishing full democracy while others are still striving to reach this ambitious goal. The former are enjoying the fruits of the proper governance that have spurred growth and development in addition to the alleviation of poverty while many developing countries more so in the Latin America region are yet to benefit from advantages of political democracy (Grugel & Bishop, 2013).

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This paper critically assesses the process of democratization in Latin America and its inability to address the problems of marginalization, poverty, and exclusion. It also overviews how these issues impede both political and economic development. While significant strides have been made towards democracy since the third wave of democratization, the citizens of the most Latin American states are yet to reap the gains made due to the democratization.

Democracy and Democratization in Latin America

Democracy is a system where people have power and control over collectively binding rules and policies. It is, therefore, a situation where people enjoy equal rights to take part in direct decision-making. Democracy therefore is an arrangement that reorganizes people’s participation in public affairs and control of public resources (Storm, 2008).

Democracy is concerned with the people who constitute the ‘the people,’ the ways the desires of the population can be made known, and the means to understand and safeguard the democratic rights of the people. Moreover, in a democratic system, the people give to and limit the power of the government through the constitution. While most democracies have their constitution documented on paper, countries like New Zealand, Britain and Israel are governed by unwritten constitution (Lijphart, 2012). The document is supposed to enable the rule by the people, ensure that the rule of law is equally applied, and protect fundamental rights and freedom of the people through liberalism.

Democratization, on the other hand, is the process through which nations shift from authoritarian rule to democratic governance. Democratization is a contested concept that is analyzed on numerous spheres. The general definition of democratization is, however, the creation of a democratic state as well as the introduction and extension of fundamental citizenship rights. For a full democratization to be realized, there have to be socio-economic reforms, cultural and social changes as well as gender reforms.

In the Latin America, owing to the third wave, an irreversible process of political transformation inaugurated. Countries like Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay managed to replace progressively the military rule with democracy within the decade. Since 1980, the five Central American republics began to enjoy competitive politics where elected civilian presidents led all the countries (Franco, 2009). The signing of the Esquipulas Agreement of 1987, which terminated the lost decade of development and the ousting of juntas and dictators, opened the door to a new horizon. The region’s stability, social and economic progress were secured by the democracy as the political model of choice (Barton & Tedesco, 2004). Nevertheless, even though there were major gains due to the transformation from military rule, democracies in Latin America experienced delays in an attempt to consolidate their process fully. Although the advanced stages of the democratization were reached, the barriers like corruption, populism, and inadequate government performance hindered a full realization of democracy.

Democracy and Poverty in Latin America

Latin America is regarded as the region with the world’s most unequal distribution as far as wealth is concerned. The region exhibited economic growth and democratic progression over the years. In particular, the economy of the region demonstrated stable advancement in the last ten years. However, poverty continued to rise under the democratic regimes in the region as well. In attempts to reduce poverty in the region, Latin America has made little or no progress over the last 15 years (Goni, Lopez, & Serven, 2008).

One of the major contributors to high-level poverty in this part of the world is the decades of political upheavals and constant political challenges on the ruling class by the marginalized members of the population. Moreover, because the majority of voters live on less than two dollars a day, it can be stated that the poor mainly vote on non-economic grounds or do not vote at all. On the other hand, the middle class prevented them from voting for their true interest through coercion and manipulation. Such a tendency eventually led to the fact that over the last decade, Latin America registered low levels of political trust and high levels of dissatisfaction with democracy.

The electorates’ behavior manifested poor party identification and low voter turnout during elections. This means that leaders elected by the middle class are those who do not push for social stability agenda and do not prioritize poverty alleviation when they undertake new responsibilities. This results in non-existent or weak parties unable to introduce social demands and provide efficient political representation. This lack of effective channels delayed political development with the evidence of voter apathy throughout the region. Also, the levels of economic productivity stagnated as most populace suffers from poverty without opportunities to cope with it provided by the government (Arce & Bellinger, 2007).

However, while the most of Latin America democracy is still struggling to reduce poverty, countries like Chile, Peru, and Argentina recorded a decrease in poverty. This can be attributed to the fact that the governments embarked on social policies like Chile Solidaro, which benefited over one hundred and eighty thousand people by providing employment opportunities as opposed to financial assistance. Since the election of leftist presidents in Latin America, the conditions there exhibit positive changes due to the launch of social programs.

Democracy and the Issue of Marginalization and Exclusion

For many years, Latin America depended on neoliberal democracy where the state worked in close collaboration with business sector for survival. Such an arrangement gave the advantage to businesses and financial agents over labor. Socially, the poor also were disadvantaged comparing to the middle and the ruling class. Neoliberal democracy widened the gap between the poor and the rich, resulting in ranking Latin America region as the one with the highest regarding unequal wealth distribution (Ribot & Larson, 2013). Since neoliberal democracy has been accepted by most Latin American governments, historical injustices of inequality, marginalization, and exclusion persist. Even though the region derived benefits from democracy, social economic and political relations between the rich and the poor were mainly influenced by the structures left by the colonial masters.

During the 1990s, the region was engaged in something called ‘democrat ship,’ which is a system used by the political class to conform to electoral demands of democracy and, at the same time, reinforce marginalization. The neo-populists, quasi-authoritarian governments installed political crisis and hyperinflation destabilized the activities of the civil society in the region. (Drake, 2009). Marginalization was at its peak while the political class vetoed matters of influence and the corruption thrived. They manipulated the constitutions.

The marginalized groups are of little or no interest for democracy or rather democratic processes. They do not vote or mobilize for political activities. Neither are they targeted by policies and initiatives. The elite dominates the commercial and political affairs, thus concentrating land, power, and politics in the hand of few families. This meant that the society becomes unequal with peasants and poor urban providing serving as labor for the innumerous elite. Democracy in the Latin America failed to correct this situation as power and influence is still a preserve of a few families.

While most indicators point to persistence marginalization and exclusion in the most of the Latin American region, some government initiatives, programs, and social policies reduced marginalization and exclusion. A significantly larger proportion of the Venezuela population believes inequality and marginalization have declined in recent years. Ever since taking over the power, inclusion and participatory democracy have been a priority for the leftist. People begin to have control over public affairs, and participation in state matters increases (O’Toole, 2013).

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Owing to the third wave, in the 1980s, the Latin America region was liberated from the dictatorship and junta’s rule and became governed by more democratic powers where citizens are involved in the governance. Since the advent democracy, Latin America embarked on a rebuilding process to compensate for the ‘lost decade’ under military and dictatorship rule. While there have been gains due to democracy and people’s rule, the benefits are yet to be brought as the poverty, marginalization, and exclusion are still prevalent. The failure of Latin American democracy is epitomized by their inability of the governments to eradicate poverty, eliminate corruption and inequality, control crimes, and spur development. Since the leftist leaders took power, however, the situations began to change positively due to numerous social policies and social program as well as market-oriented strategies being implemented by these leaders.

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