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Clientelism and repression undermine democracy in Latin America
April 29, 2020
CADAL renewed its agreement with the German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung to translate and publish in Spanish the methodology, executive summary, global trends and regional chapters of the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI). The 2020 edition will include an annex that places the trends revealed in the framework of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. Meanwhile, CADAL will use the BTI for the elaboration of articles and reports that deepen in the specific performance of countries, in the period from 2006 to date. The BTI 2020 demonstrates that democracy is under increasing pressure worldwide and that there is an erosion of the rule of law and political freedoms. This applies, of course, to Latin America and the Caribbean.

The new edition of the BTI Transformation Index from the German Bertelsmann Stiftung Foundation shows that democracy is under increasing pressure worldwide and that there is an erosion of the rule of law and political freedoms. This applies, of course, to Latin America and the Caribbean. It is still a democratic region, despite the fact that more than a quarter of the countries now have an autocratic government -as is now also happening in Guatemala and Honduras-. The reasons behind these processes lie in the obvious desire to preserve power and clientelism, which strengthen economic inequality and accentuate the division of society. An alarm signal.

Clientelism and repression undermine democracy in Latin America

On a global scale, the number of countries whose political leaders abuse their positions and put patronage before the common good is growing. An increasing number of people in the countries concerned are experiencing and suffering the consequences of corruption and mismanagement, which undermine the most important elements of democratic systems. 

The assessments of the quality of democracy, the market economy and governance assigned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung's International Transformation Index (BTI) have been reduced for the sixth consecutive time. Since 2004, this index has regularly analyzed political and economic transformations in developing and transition countries.

Of the 137 States currently analyzed by BTI, 74 are classified as democracies and 63 as autocracies. The erosion of the quality of democracy is also noticeable in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the early 2000s, Cuba was considered the last authoritarian bastion in the region, which at that time already seemed to be tottering. Today, among the 22 States analyzed in this region, there are 6 autocracies: apart from Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Serious setbacks in the area of free elections and civil rights

The regional average over the last decade has seen an extremely marked decline in the right to free and fair elections and in the protection of civil rights. In particular, an increase in violations of basic civil rights has been identified in Nicaragua and Venezuela, demonstrating the iron will of the regimes of Daniel Ortega and Nicolás Maduro in their attempts to remain in power. In contrast, restrictions on the right to vote have been particularly severe in Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela. By now, in Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, it is no longer possible to speak of free elections that meet a minimum democratic standard. In recent years, the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have so distorted the separation of powers that there is no longer democratic control of the executive branch.

The authoritarian regression in Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the right-wing populist or ultra-conservative involutions in Brazil and Colombia, which have only partly gained strength after the end of the period studied, point to an anti-democratic right-wing shift, driven by the former elites. A key element in this process is the growing influence of the evangelical churches. All of them are promoting an intensification of the reactionary agenda that supports intolerant positions, and at the core of which is the defence and promotion of Christian family values. About half of the BTI 2020 country reports from Latin America point to the growing influence of these churches in politics. 

Lack of response to political and socio-economic challenges

The causes of the destabilization of the established political order lie in the weak problem-solving capacity of political actors, as well as in clientelistic policies and the unwillingness to compromise. A major problem, still unresolved, remains crime linked to drug trafficking. Apart from war zones, there is no more violent region in the world than Latin America and the Caribbean. According to official statistics, in the two years covered by the analysis period, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed - up to January 2019 - mostly in the most populated countries: Brazil and Mexico. Criminal violence is also on the rise in traditionally peaceful countries such as Uruguay.

Most governments in the region have not found an answer to the urgent problem of the social and economic exclusion of large sections of the population. Poverty and inequality are widespread in 8 of the 22 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In global terms, there is no region in the world that is so marked by inequality. As recent demonstrations in Chile have shown, it is very difficult to stop the trend towards greater social inequality, which is -in part- conditioned by the effects of globalization, even in the case of governments that implement an active social policy. The example of Brazil shows that, even during the Workers' Party administrations, inequality has not stopped growing, even though - at the same time - poverty levels have clearly been reduced.

Due to the fall in commodity prices since autumn 2014, the scope for government action to implement interventionist measures in the field of social policy has been reduced. At the same time, in many Latin American and Caribbean States, indebtedness began to grow massively. It has been, above all, the "big three" - Argentina, Brazil and Mexico - that have most clearly shown a collapse in their national economies. Given the serious economic problems and marked social segregation, the effects of pervasive corruption in many countries are becoming more acute. Only in Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay is abuse of power systematically sanctioned, as well as, with some limitations, in Argentina and Brazil. These five countries implement an effective anti-corruption policy, although, as in the case of Brazil, to some extent within the framework of a highly politicised and partial judicial system.

Lights of hope against authoritarian tendencies

Despite greater repression in autocracies and more defects in democracies, this trend is not irreversible. In Ecuador it has been possible to overcome an increasingly authoritarian regime. And a large number of Latin American democracies, beyond the numerous difficulties of the transformation processes, have shown surprising resistance to authoritarian regressions. Yet the impetus for positive reforms, as the BTI 2020 results highlight, is rarely from governments; rather it comes from a critical civil society, which opposes the dismantling of democratic standards. "In times of increasing destabilization we will have to find answers to these trends, within the framework of a co-responsible international community. If we aspire to the maintenance of democracies, the challenge of the future will focus on the quality of leadership and the debate on the anchoring of values in political and economic action", warns Brigitte Mohn, member of the Board of Directors of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Since 2004, the Bertelsmann Stiftung's BTI Transformation Index has regularly analyzed and assessed the quality of democracy, market economy and good governance in 137 developing countries. It is based on more than 5,000 pages of detailed regional reports, produced in collaboration with more than 280 specialists from leading universities and think tanks in more than 120 countries. The current reporting period runs from February 1, 2017, to January 31, 2019.

The BTI is the only international comparative index that measures the quality of governance with self-assessed data. From the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL), collaborating partner of Bertelsmann Stiftung since 2014, BTI is published, translated into Spanish.

Contact: Dr. Hauke Hartmann
Phone number: +49 5241 81-81389
E-mail: hauke.hartmann@bertelsmann-stiftung.de
For more information please visit the project's website: www.bti-project.org