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Javier Corrales on Radar Opportunitas:

The Future of Democracy in Latin America

With Guillermo Bolinaga and Javier Corrales

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Opportunitas-Javier-Corrales-Blog
logo-radar-opportunitas-eng-rec

Javier Corrales on Radar Opportunitas:

The Future of Democracy in Latin America

With Guillermo Bolinaga and Javier Corrales

guillermo-bolinaga
Opportunitas-Javier-Corrales-Blog
Opportunitas Advisors

March 28, 2024

Democracy in Latin America: an Uphill Battle?
In a region that has been rocked by political, economic, and social crises, democracy in Latin America stands at a crossroads. Political polarization, corruption, the influence of illegal economies, and the erosion of technical capacity among public officials have all increased in Latin America.
These factors serve as warning signs of the weakening of democratic institutions, prompting us to question whether the region will be able to consolidate its democratic systems or will succumb to forces seeking to undermine them. In our latest episode of “Radar Opportunitas,” we are honored to have Javier Corrales, a professor of Political Science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and author of several titles such as Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and the Legacy of Hugo Chavez and Autocracy Rising: How Venezuela Transitioned to Authoritarianism. Professor Corrales has extensively published on Latin America and the Caribbean and is a contributor to The New York Times. He has also written for The Washington Post, NPR, and Foreign Policy.
We began our conversation by asking Professor Corrales about his perspective on the current state of democracy in Latin America. Corrales responded, “In some countries, democracy has already completely disappeared, and in others where we thought it was holding, it has also declined. All of us who follow the region are very concerned about the decline. Despite some successes in certain countries, with examples of institutional survival, the region is under attack by forces seeking to weaken democratic institutions.”
Corrales emphasizes the importance of defenders of democracy being vigilant against signs that could erode the system. One of the first attacks on the system often occurs when a president seeks to concentrate power, change the legal system to allow certain irregularities, or act against the opposition or non-governmental organizations. Another sign that democracy may be weakened is when the political party system and opposition fragment, as happened in El Salvador. Another institution Corrales considers crucial is the independence and professionalism of the justice system and legal framework. The independence of these systems in cases like Brazil and Nicaragua has been key in defending the democratic system in these countries.
We then discussed the presence of minority groups in the region and the challenges they face. Corrales believes that Latin America has seen legal and institutional advances in the inclusion that protect historically marginalized groups such as indigenous groups, Afro-Latinos, and the LGBT community. Additionally, he notes discrimination against other minority groups and highlights that in the region and many countries worldwide, there is a “phobia against the poor,” a group marginalized due to lack of resources and facing discrimination and social rejection.
In recent years, we have seen the effect of the global information ecosystem on politics, from the use of social media in political campaigns to the impact of content virality on the size and influence of social movements. Regarding this issue, Professor Corrales believes that digital tools are used by both defenders and critics of democracy, which can have a net effect as both sides benefit. In his opinion, “In Venezuela, where democracy has disappeared, if WhatsApp or other platforms didn’t exist, there would be a lack of information and total discouragement, and the limited civil strength and pluralism survive thanks to these tools.” However, he emphasizes that it is known that authoritarian governments also use these tools for propaganda and attacks against dissent, such as the case of Bolivia, where “digital warriors” conduct campaigns against institutions, personalities, and events that could harm the democratic system.
A 2023 study by Latinobarómetro indicates that only 48% of those surveyed express support for democracy in the region, which represents a decrease of 15 percentage points compared to the 63% registered in 2010. Additionally, support for authoritarianism also increased, with 17% of those surveyed supporting that “an authoritarian government may be preferable”, compared to 15% in 2010. We asked Corrales his opinion on the future of democracy in the region, who believes it is important to moderate expectations about the system. In his view, democracy is not a mechanism to guarantee individual success but its main function is to regulate political competition peacefully. Professor Corrales highlights that a democratic system allows for competition of ideas and living in harmony to protect citizens’ political rights and resources, especially to prevent violence and domination of one group over another. However, he acknowledges that while a democratic system does not guarantee 100% this peaceful coexistence, it works much better than other systems.
We couldn’t end the episode without asking the professor his opinion on the possible scenarios in this year’s elections in Venezuela. Corrales argues that the Maduro government seeks elections with a divided and weak opposition and high abstentionism. However, the opposition primaries held in October 2023 unified the population and generated a strong desire to vote. Therefore, he believes that despite adverse conditions, opposition participation and unity are key to creating an electoral momentum against the government.

What challenges does democracy face in Latin America and how can we strengthen it? To learn this and more, listen to the new episode of Radar Opportunitas with renowned political scientist Javier Corrales. 

To learn more about these topics and to hear our guest’s opinion in detail, listen to the episode of Radar Opportunitas available at the following link
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