Latin America’s state institutions co-opted to bolster those in power


Nicaragua moved closer to one-party rule late last month, when the country’s Supreme Electoral Council unseated 28 opposition lawmakers and substitute lawmakers in the National Assembly, effectively handing full control of the legislature to President Daniel Ortega’s party, the Sandinista Front of National Liberation, or FSLN, notes analyst Tatiana Benavides-Santos.

The council dismissed the lawmakers from the Independent Liberal Party for their refusal to recognize their new official party leader, Pedro Reyes, an Ortega ally who had been granted the position in a contentious ruling in June by the Supreme Court of Justice that removed the previous opposition leader, Eduardo Montealegre, she writes for World Politics Review:

Unfortunately, these types of moves, which directly violate the constitutional order and undermine democracy, are increasingly common in several Latin American countries. Across the region, such changes to the constitutional order have taken on a new form. They occur within the parameters of democracy and through the use of state institutions to legitimize autocratic behavior. Various executive and legislative branches of government have manipulated the rule of law and tilted the balance of power to validate their actions, while violating the very principles these institutions are built on.

Most often, these authoritarian moves have involved the politicization of the courts and state electoral bodies. Mechanisms of accountability have also been co-opted, as evidenced by the use of impeachment proceedings to allow for a change in power without having to wait for new elections.

“Rather than just undermine democracy, Benavides-Santos adds, “these kinds of measures have triggered the three most critical political crises in Latin America—in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Brazil.”

On the other hand, the rising rejection of leftist populism in Latin American democracies gained a new leader in August with the inauguration in Peru of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, an accomplished international economist with progressive social goals, notes analyst Juan de Onis. Flanked by fellow presidents from Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico, Kuczynski took office on July 28 as part of a fresh political lineup in Latin America that stands opposed to the radical socialism championed by Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan strongman, and his handpicked successor, Nicholas Maduro. This authoritarian statism has contributed to a decade of economic decline for most of Latin America’s 600 million people, most dramatically in Venezuela, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

As a sign of Lima’s growing distance from Caracas, the Peruvian congress adopted a declaration last week calling on Maduro to release political prisoners and respect a vote to recall him as president. That declaration was followed by Peru’s joining a resolution in the Organization of American States that called on Venezuela to negotiate with the opposition for a solution to the humanitarian crisis caused by food and medical shortages. This resolution, supported by the United States and 14 other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, was condemned by Venezuela as interference in its internal affairs. Only three other countries—Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua—voted on Venezuela’s side. 

“Peru’s system is more democratic than are the all-powerful presidential systems found in most Latin American countries, but it is vulnerable to paralysis should party politics become radicalized,” de Onis adds. “Peru will thus offer an important test of consensus and cohesion for a Latin America that is searching for more representative politics.”

Kuczynski is the first president in the region since former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe to denounce the Venezuelan regime, notes Dr. Luis Fleischman, Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy and the author of the upcoming book, “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States:”

So far, other sitting Latin American presidents have chosen to ignore Chavez and Maduro’s assault on democracy, human rights, and legality. They have acted like this in order not to lose the advantages of Latin American regional integration….The countries of the region need to tilt the balance to build a region that supports democracy and ostracizes tyranny. The movement is slow but better than none.


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