There are still many democracies in Latin America, but their quality is declining

After Europe and North America, Latin America remains the region with the highest density of democracy in the world. However, the lack of security is the main reason why authoritarian governments are tolerated.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung


For the past eight years, democracies in Latin America have been steadily declining in quality. Last year, the region fell the most among the continents in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index. Democratic deficits increased in two thirds of the 24 countries surveyed by the institute.

Nevertheless, Latin America remains the third continent with the highest number of democracies after North America and Europe. The experts explain this contradiction by the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean have good electoral procedures, a high level of political participation and the most civil liberties in a global comparison – but the worst rating for political culture and the functionality of governments.

The Central American states of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti experienced the greatest setbacks. Today, nine percent of the 240 million people in the region live in dictatorships. In addition to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, the EIU experts also include the Caribbean state of Haiti. Nicaragua and Venezuela now rank at the same level of democracy as Russia.

Only around one percent of people in Latin America live in developed democracies. These are the citizens of Costa Rica and Uruguay. Chile, which the EIU also rated as a complete democracy for a long time, has descended into a “flawed democracy”. The EIU blames this primarily on the growing influence of unelected experts in the democratic process.

More than half (54%) of Latin American citizens live in flawed democracies. These include populous countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. The EIU classifies Mexico as a “hybrid democracy”, where democracy also contains authoritarian elements.

Democratic elements have only increased in three countries – albeit at a low level: in Paraguay, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, the key figures have improved.

Uruguay is once again the frontrunner in the region and ranks 14th in the global index, roughly on a par with Australia or Japan. Costa Rica (17) ranks ahead of Austria and well ahead of Spain or France.

The EIU sees the growing security problems in the region as the greatest threat to democracies in Latin America. The populations in the countries are increasingly tolerating authoritarian governments, which are reacting to the lack of security by dismantling basic rights. One example of this is El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who is in the process of transforming his country into a dictatorship – and is supported by around 80 percent of the population. In Ecuador, President Daniel Noboa is about to follow the same path.

EIU fears that this trend could intensify in Latin America: three of the ten most dangerous countries in the world are in the region. These are Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. Six out of ten countries in which the population considers the lack of security to be the biggest problem are in Latin America.

One advantage in Latin America is that there are no wars between states. “So far” writes EIU, referring to the threatened occupation of large parts of Guyana by Venezuela.

The problem is that election campaigns are becoming increasingly violent, as recently in Ecuador and currently in Mexico.

© Unsplash/Nigel SB Photography

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