Courtesy Reuters

The Future of Democracy in Latin America

THERE is no reason for believing that political stability in Latin America is greater in the nineteen-fifties than it was a hundred years ago. Revolutions in the last 30 years have been as frequent, dictatorships as numerous, durable and oppressive as they were a century ago. It may, of course, be argued that the reasons for instability have changed, and the contention may or may not be true. But the fact of revolution versus dictatorship has remained constant. It cannot even be said that the contemporary revolutions are less bloody or that the tyrannies are more humane. What happened in Colombia between 1946 and 1954 is sufficient to disprove that thesis. Democratic government has remained an unfulfilled hope in spite of the many interesting constitutions that have been written during the last century. The aspiration to achieve the ideal of legality has failed. I shall seek here to suggest some reasons for the failure and to argue for a way out of the dilemma posed by the dream of representative democracy and the fact of revolution or dictatorship.

Contemporary Latin American political difficulties cannot be divorced from their historical past. The Spanish tradition is authoritarian, bureaucratic and centralized. The tradition is to leave political responsibility to the government and expect it to do everything. The extreme individualism of the Spanish character and the authoritarian tradition of the Spanish government seem to go hand in hand. The bureaucratic colonial administration controlled every agency of political administration--with the exception of the cabildo (township), and the township government was immersed in petty localisms. It was aristocratic in character and incompetent to become the base of a national government. The descendants of the Spaniards, the criollos, who led the independence movements, were inexperienced in politics and possessed no clear concepts of nationality. The nation was in the future, something to be forged, molded and solidified. This was true territorially as well as ideologically. There was either no American tradition to appeal to, or it was nebulous and fanciful

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