Democracy in Latin America: Between Hope and Despair

In This Review

Democracy in Latin America: Between Hope and Despair
By Ignacio Walker. Translated by Krystin Krause, Holly Bird, an
University of Notre Dame Press, 2013
280 pp. $38.00

Offering much more hope than despair, these sophisticated reflections by a veteran Chilean scholar-politician -- who currently serves in the country’s Senate -- seem especially pertinent after the landslide electoral victory of Michelle Bachelet, who was recently reelected to the office of president after holding it before, from 2006 until 2010. Walker’s Christian Democratic Party will represent an integral part of Bachelet’s governing coalition. His book provides a powerful exegesis of Chile’s remarkable successes, emphasizing the importance of learning from painful mistakes and of responsible leadership. Walker faults the failure of scholars of Latin American affairs to predict or even explain the region’s favorable outcomes. He rejects deterministic theories, many pessimistic, which had condemned Latin America to authoritarian politics and economic distress. Deploring irresponsible populism such as the type practiced by the late former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, Walker highlights the more positive, dominant wave of democratic legitimacy. For Walker (and Bachelet), the challenges ahead are to make democratic institutions more effective for the average citizen and, by raising taxes and social spending, to build a more communitarian economy capable of providing enhanced, universal benefits.

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