Is Democracy Dead? Latin America’s Civil Unrest

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Much like Nietzsche’s link on Christianity and democracy, political theorists and leaders alike have come to view democracy as the ultimate regime; an almost divine method of peacefully settling disputes. With the spread of liberal peace and the “Western” spread of the one true political order, many countries adopted such institutional arrangements.

At the turn of the last century, countries from Latin America and the Caribbean endured swift changes in regime. Most of the countries in the region share a past of military dictators, semi-authoritarian regimes, single-party systems or other quasi-democratic arrangements. However, the future of the region is now set, mostly, on achieving democratic institutions that resemble those of the “Western” values.

Recent events in the region have tested the efficiency that democracy has in settling disputes and providing an agreeable lifestyle to the citizens of each country. Chile is often referred to, together with Uruguay, as one of the best functioning democracies in the Latin American region. Economic development seemed to be thriving in the country. Nonetheless, inequality, amongst many other issues, remained unresolved.

Inequality is traced to the establishment of neoliberal economic policies, a legacy of both the US’s notions on liberal peace and the right-wing dictatorship which ruled Chile at the turn of the last century. Chilean citizens of many different backgrounds have taken to the streets to demand a change in government policy. Their demands are not being heard but rather repressed violently by the military and the police.

Bolivia, already on the edge of losing its democratic status, has also seen citizens taking to the streets to demand that the ruling President Evo Morales is not re-elected for a fourth term after a highly irregular electoral process. As in Chile, protesters were met with violent oppression by the State. Honduras, Ecuador, and Haiti have also seen citizens taking to the streets only to end up fighting with police forces in violent clashes. The region is truly struggling to be heard by its leaders.

Can democracy truly work when peaceful protests are met with violence? Protesting is one of many tools that society should have to show interest in changing government policy, particularly where the votes cast in ballots are not being heard. Protests like these should also serve as a reminder that, while voting is part of democracy, true democratic values are not limited to polling stations but also include accountability to the population. The divine method of peaceful conflict resolution seems to be failing Latin America and the Caribbean.

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