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Latin America: Between Despotism and Chaos

By: Carlos Sabino - @Sabino2324 - Dec 11, 2014, 10:48 am

EspañolFive Latin-American countries today possess political systems which could be called absolutist: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Within these nations, there exists no division of powers: in each of them the electoral body is under the complete control of the executive. Their legislatures are comprised of docile groupings of deputies that invariably submit to the will of the president. Their judiciaries are subject to huge pressure from an executive, in turn captured by leaders who can be reelected indefinitely.

The president is thus the only real political power, recalling the dominion of those military leaders, or caudillos, who in times past divided the continent among themselves and ruled it with an iron fist.

In the rest of Latin America, by contrast, we have weak governments that spend more time satisfying social demands than fulfilling their basic function: providing security for their citizens.

In the cases of these latter countries, the judiciary, although more or less independent, is bureaucratic, sluggish, and plagued by red tape. Judiciaries are more preoccupied with the rights of the accused than with those of victims. They follow a so-called penal guaranteeism, requiring impossible levels of evidence to be marshaled to secure convictions, which severely risks the well-being of many.

The police, often inefficient or corrupt, are equally unable to guarantee order or punish crime. This means that we are witness to terrible episodes in which rural populations take justice into their own hands, prisons where mob leaders continue to direct their gangs, and a general increase in homicide rates and ever-growing insecurity.

Some of those above-mentioned countries with absolutist governments are also characterized by these floods of crime that keep citizens in a permanent state of anxiety; Venezuela is notorious for leading the field when it comes to homicide.

By dividing Latin-American nations into these two large groups, it helps us to highlight the profound shortcomings displayed in either political system, and see very clearly what, by contrast, we do need.

There are those democratic but weak governments, that cave in to the pressure of well-organized activists. They adopt the agenda of international donors, while failing to guarantee the rights of those that invest in the country. To widespread insecurity we can add judicial insecurity. At any moment taxes may be increased, or fresh regulations established which damage private enterprise, especially among smaller firms.

On the other side, we have absolutist governments that are effectively dictatorships, or moving towards despotism, but exercise their power not to tackle the problems facing their countries but for the benefit of unopposed presidents and their cronies.

The region’s current situation recalls the institutional failings that we suffered during previous centuries, as the pendulum swung between periods of one-man rule and weak democracies. Without wishing to defend them, we may at least say that the dictators of the past responded to the challenges of their age; they carried out important public works, confronted national enemies, and began the task of constructing a modern state in the wake of a semi-feudal colonial system.

Nowadays, however, individuals such as the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, or the Cuban dictators Fidel and Raúl Castro, seem bent on destroying everything they inherited, from republican values to the physical infrastructure so necessary for the welfare of their citizens.

What Latin America needs today is not further social spending, nor dialogue with minuscule groups that don’t respect the law and wrongly claim to represent the popular will. Nor do we need even more taxes, which only serve to feed burgeoning state bureaucracy and corruption. What we do need are strong governments, albeit limited in their functions, to strengthen respect for the law and guarantee order and the security of everyone. We need governments that don’t play the role of monarchies past, but act with efficiency and simplicity.

If not, we’ll carry on as we are: advancing towards political crises which will only inhibit our development, and end up causing still more violence and oppression.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

Carlos Sabino Carlos Sabino

Sociologist, writer, and university professor, Sabino is director of the masters and doctoral programs in history at the University of Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala. Follow him @Sabino2324