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Latin America's Dysfunctional Democracy
Sunday, August 28, 2005

Primarily, this is a technology blog, however, technology is just a piece of the big societal puzzle. Hence, a "lets make a better society for all" flavour sometimes makes it into some of my entries.

Today, I want to talk about Latin America: most Latin American countries (minus Cuba) seem to gravitate around free electing democracies, however, the majority - if not all countries - are stagnating when it comes to economical development.

If they truly have the power to elect their rulers, why is it that nothing changes from election to election? Or coup d'tat - Whatever yanks the opposing parties' chain at the time of power exchange.

A bigger question I pose: Are democratic elections only a symbolic event that take place every once in a while to give a false sense of empowerment, and in the end change nothing about an economical system?

I have no objective answer to my question. I only have personal opinions. I.e. I can only give a subjective Canadian experience: the exchange of power in North American societies (Exclude Mexico) rarely changes the machinations of the economy, nor the bureaucratic red tape that moves our governmental offices.

There are of course some disturbances, however, the status quo is still maintained. I have two specific examples: first, in the US Bush was awarded the win in the presidential elections (by the supreme court) when running against a Democratic representative - The US went from a Liberal to a Conservative administration in a matter of days. Although, there were some major changes in international policies, the day to day activities didn't change too much; secondly, in Canada Paul Martin succeeded Jean Chretien to the Prime Minister's office without any elections - It's the way Canadian politics work - A change of head of state, without anyone barely noticing.

In both cases the economical benefits of the majority of the population didn't take a hit due to changes in the heads of state. Try doing that in El Salvador or Venezuela.

Anyway. What I really want to share with you is an interesting (to me) short essay to ponder over dinner. It's from Denise Dresser, a Professor of Political Science from Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico, titled: "Latin America's Dysfunctional Democracy." The introduction reads:
    In Latin America, many people live with outstretched hands. Throughout the Hemisphere, paternalistic governments accustom people to receiving just enough to survive instead of participating in society. Across the region, politicians that writer Octavio Paz once referred to as "philanthropic ogres" create clients instead of citizens, people who expect instead of demand.
Is this really the problem?

Do Latin American citizens view themselves as objects of economical systems that require autocratic authorities to make decisions for them?

Or, are they free thinking creators of their own destinies trapped in tyrannical regimes that exhaust every ounce of creativity out of each and everyone of them?

Except of course for the "ruling elites," as Noam Chomsky would call them - For some reason the "educated-abroad capitalists" seem to do very well for themselves in the current Latin American democratic systems.

Leave aside the fact that the ones investing in their children's education (US schools are not cheap) already have capital, so it's safe to assume they have enough resources to invest in the local economies. But, are these young adults really learning secrets from foreign Universities to live better lives? What are local Universities teaching the new leaders of industry? You really have to wonder. I do; I also wonder if the cycle will ever be broken so that Latin American countries will be able to compete with "first world" sister nations in every aspect of daily living: economically, scientifically, etc.

There is also a Spanish version of the essay.

I must conclude this entry with a note of caution: It is very easy to analyze foreign policies and vicissitudes of other countries from the convenience of our Herman Miller chairs - I know for a fact that some citizens in Latin America (El Salvador, specifically) work extremely hard on a day to day basis and never really think of themselves as children of egomaniac dictators - They are just like you and me: part of an economical system and live their lives with what they have - We are fortunate to have more resources and are citizens of great nations that allow us to participate (or so we think) as opposed to become dependent children, as Professor Dresser argues.

Another fact to take into consideration is that once we are out of a Latin American regime, we finally see the faults. Our points of view mature as we have a new perspectives on old stories; Sadly, true and horrible stories of civil oppressionn and human right violations.

11:18 PM | 0 comment(s) |


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