In This Review

Promoting Democracy in the Americas
Promoting Democracy in the Americas
Edited by Thomas Legler, Sharon F. Lean, and Dexter S. Bonif
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007, 360 pp

In the 1990s, a powerful inter-American consensus emerged behind the collective defense of representative democracy. More recently, however, many have begun to question the capacity of international actors to bolster fragile democratic institutions. A worthy successor to Tom Farer's seminal Beyond Sovereignty: Collectively Defending Democracy in the Americas, this Canadian-heavy collection finds that outright military coups are largely passé. But its contributors are rightly alarmed by new, more subtle threats: authoritarian backsliding (Haiti, Venezuela), uncivil civil-society protests (Bolivia, Ecuador), and antidemocratic legislative-presidential conflict (Nicaragua). Clearly, the inter-American system urgently requires updated criteria for international involvement and shrewder, case-by-case interventions. The thoughtful conceptual chapters by Darren Hawkins and Carolyn Shaw, Jennifer McCoy, and the three editors, as well as the finely detailed country case studies, ably capture the many unsettling ironies and dreadful dilemmas; regrettably, some contributors seem to suggest that opportunistic leaders claiming to represent popular aspirations should be forgiven their undemocratic transgressions. Legler concludes that Hugo Chávez's Venezuela "may prove to be the battleground that determines whether the [Organization of American States'] collective-defense-of-democracy regime becomes a fixture in inter-American affairs or an ephemeral phenomenon."