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Brazil: Embracing Structural Changes to Consolidate Democracy Case Study

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2022


Democratic consolidation is mostly termed as a critical consideration when it comes to developing and the thriving of a state across the world. However, democracy is something that is easily talked about than it is implemented by many states across the globe.

Democracy is built on the political landscape and the presence of a volatile landscape in the Latin America region has raised a lot of questions concerning the possibility of the countries in the region to consolidate democracy. Most commentators argue that it is quite daunting for the countries in the region to develop structures that promote democracy.

The rationale behind such conclusive views is that most countries in the region have volatile politics, which largely bar them from developing and embracing internal structures that are critical in promoting democracy. However, recent times have seen an implementation of changes in a substantial number of countries in the region, which point to the embrace of democracy.

One of the countries that has shown tremendous improvements when it comes to the consolidation of democracy in Latin America is Brazil. This paper explores the challenges facing democratic consolidation in Brazil. The paper argues that the embrace of structural changes in the political, social, and economic realms of Brazil is greatly helping the country to consolidate democracy.

The paper is divided into four parts. The first part of the paper paints the real picture of democracy in Latin America through a description of the military, political and economic problems that engulf democracy in the region.

The second part of the paper analyses the general landscape of Brazil; political instability, presidentialism, political parties, and populism and how they impact democratic consolidation and the executive-legislative relations.

This is followed by an exploration of critical issues that appertain to democracy in Brazil, like crime and insecurity, law enforcement, and the rule of law. The last part presents an analysis of the economic challenges in Brazil and how they impede democracy in the country.

Political, military and economic challenges facing democracy in Latin America

Political stability is one of the pointers to the prevalence of democracy in a given state or region across the globe. It is also critical to note that democratization is a political process, thus the level of democratization in any region across the world is measured by the level of independence and functionality of key political institutions like the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive.

Political stability in any region of the world is marked by a number of factors. Among these factors are the open space for the political participation of the masses, the presence of functional institutions, and the lack of interference of other institution by the executive. Indeed, a closer assessment of the political situation in the entire region of Latin America for the past few years indicates the lack of political stability.

A substantial number of countries in the region of Latin America have had extreme politics, marking the lack of open politics that are critical for the establishment of democracy. These countries include Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela where there have been attempts by the executive of these countries to amass power through exercising power and influence over other key institutions in the country like the legislature and the judiciary.

The consolidation of power and the subsequent exercise of the same power is a key recipe to the lack of political correctness, thereby hampering of the process of democratization.

For instance, the regime of Venezuela has continuously pushed for the centralization of power, which implies the placement of a lot of powers in the hands of the president and the subsequent killing of other important institutions like the judiciary, which are critical in the administration of justice and key attributes of democracy.

According to ECLAC (1), the economy of Latin America has continued to show tremendous improvements throughout the 21st century, with the reduction in the cases of poverty and inequality in terms of resource distribution.

The sluggishness in the pace of economic development in the region has been a major source of illegal acts like the prevalence of gangs and organized criminal groups in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and Jamaica. The prevalence of such groups in the region continues to promote a lot of social ills and instability, thereby undermining the democratization process in the region.

The early century in Latin America marked a period of industrialization. The emergence of mass politics that accompanied industrialization denoted populism in the region. A class of populist leaders emerged in the region then, who embraced oligarchic rule.

However, the influence of these leaders faded as military repression begun in a substantial number of countries in the region towards the mid of the 20th century. Therefore, the slow growth of most of the national economies of the region emanated from the lack of populist support and the consolidation of political power by a series of leaders who emerged in the region (Conniff 1-4).

Most countries in Latin America either follow the presidential system of governance or the super-presidetialism where presidents have power by virtue of ascending to power through massive support.

The presidential system of governance encourages the presidents in the region to engage in certain activities that denote the centralization of power and the constriction of the public arena, meaning that it is hard to attain democracy.

For instance, the President of Honduras amended the constitution through the removal of the clause that limited the term of the presidency, a factor that necessitated a coup in the country. Also, there were other strains of rogue leaders in the region who attempted to exercise a lot of power and control. An example is Pinochet of Chile.

Safdar (140) observes that a substantial number of countries in the region still strongly embrace the principles of autocracy, which totally negate democracy and democratization of institutions.

According to (Safdar 141), resource is another issue that hinders democracy in the region where a number of countries fall for populist forms of governance in a bid to secure the natural resources that they depend on. An example that can be given here is Venezuela, which promotes populism in the political realm as a way of attaining solutions to its economic and social problems.

Presidentialism, political instability, executive-legislative relations, populism and democracy in Brazil

According to Power (218), the political landscape of Brazil denotes the exercise of volatile and competitive politics. However, there have been significant changes in the political landscape of Brazil. Most of the changes in politics that denote the embrace of democracy in Brazil can be traced back to the last quarter of the 20th century.

Democracy in Brazil can be better explained by analyzing the presidency in the county from the mid years of the 20th century. Major policy advances that point at the improvement of the political landscape can be traced from the beginning of 1990 into the 21st century (Power 218).

According to Pio (para. 2), there was an alternation between a quasi-representative government and authoritarianism in Brazil, a factor that made it extremely difficult for the country to embrace democracy and participation.

As observed earlier, populism as applied in Latin America is an intense issue. Populism grew in the early years of the 20th century and then declined in the mid years of the same century.

As one of the countries that are embracing the principles of democracy in the region, it is critical to note that populism in the country can be looked at in terms of political organization and the way political support is mobilized by the political parties in the county. Brazil has a volatile political environment, which makes it hard for the country to attain a highly democratic environment (Duarte 111-116).

According to Sachs, Wilheim, and Pinheiro (192-195), participation in the country is highly modeled along the social lanes. Perhaps, it is critical to mention the issue of class in the country and the role that is played by the social structures in mobilizing political support in the country.

Just like in the mid years of the 20th century, populism in Brazil is still highly supported by the people from the lower class who see this as chance of exerting their influence in the politics of the country (Sachs, Wilheim, and Pinheiro 192-195).

According to Mainwaring and Chalmers (4), the transformation of Brazil into a country that embraces democracy is closely associated with the dynamic interaction between the political regime in the country and the opposition, especially in the first regime of democratic rule that reigned between 1985 and 1987. The military regime was a real thorn in the flesh of politics in Brazil for the better part of the 20th century.

Joseph (1524) observes that Brazil is one of the countries in Latin America that have managed to promote democracy in the realms of race. In what is referred to as racial democracy, it is evident that people in the country have embraced the opinion of each other, irrespective of the presence of a mixture of different races in the country.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that racial democracy is something that has only been promoted in the recent years. What prevails in the country today is a racial environment that has been largely pacified due to the concentration of the country’s government on the implementation of policies of development that seek to put it at the scales of development being attained by other countries across the globe.

Military regimes in Brazil were seen as the main impediments to the embrace of democracy in the country. An end to military governance in the country was seen as a force behind the promotion of democracy. However, the most important question to ask at this point is whether all aspects of militancy have been eliminated.

A close observation of the political regime in the country reveals that aspects of militancy have been largely upheld by the presidents in the country. An example is the Belo Monte dam project, where the government used force to advance the project, violating the rights of the citizens in the course. This is just one of the indications of abuses of power in the country, which highly undermines democracy (Picq para. 1-7).

The last elections in Brazil marked a difference in the history of the country, where a female candidate was elected to be the president of the country. A lot of people are of the view that this is an important marker in the democratization of the country (Safdar 135). The elections depicted a higher level of democracy in the political realms with the support for political parties being done in a more open way.

However, the task ahead is huge for the president, especially the harmonization of the structures of governance in the country. In the recent years, the government received a lot of resistance from the judiciary because of what was seen as an opposition to the certain reforms that were being implemented by the government (de Staal 1).

The political institutions in Brazil in the contemporary times are highly functional with ideology still playing a critical role in informing political support (Snider 1).

Brazil embraces a system of governance known as presidential parliamentarianism. A number of commentators see this system as promoting centralization in the decision making landscape, irrespective of the fact that this system of governance promotes governability. It is, therefore, a hindrance to the promotion of democracy (Snider 2).

Rule of law, crime and insecurity, corruption, law enforcement

According to Mainwaring and Chalmers (4), one of the main challenges to the attainment of democracy in Latin America is the problem of attaining citizen security. Perhaps, the most critical question to ask when referring to the democratization process in Brazil is the issue of social inequality and the ability of the country to develop policies that favor equality.

Until today, Brazil still experiences a lot of problems of security, patterned by the difficulty to embrace the rule of law and the elimination of vices like corruption.

In spite of the embrace of change in most institutions in Brazil, the state of rule of law, which is a key factors that define and promote democracy, is still not well observed in the country. There is a lot of inequity in the legal system of the country, where the law largely favors the privileged citizens who belong to the upper economic class and the political class.

At this juncture, it can be argued that Brazil still suffers from the problem of impunity, which is a negation of democracy. The country has a complex court structure that is marred by incidences of corruption and manipulation of the judicial proceedings in favor of certain individuals.

There are also significant lapses in the civilian law system of the country, where cases of non-judicial executions and torture are often reported (Pio para. 21).

The level of insecurity in the region was at the peak in the last decade of the 20th century. However, this does not mean that the situation has largely changed in most of the countries today. In most countries in the region, the lapses in security and the observance of law and order continue to be the main cause of the high number of cases of crime that prevail in the region.

Crime is one of the hindrance factors in the consolidation of democracy in any state in the world because it depicts the lack of observance of law and order in the country. Most of the states in the region have remained weak, meaning that the regimes that prevail in these countries are largely incapacitated and cannot set up structures that can help to guard the rights and freedoms of the citizens (Mainwaring and Chalmers 5).

There are a lot of social challenges in Brazil, which makes it quite daunting for the structures of democracy to flourish. Most of the social problems in the country do not only revolve around poverty, but they are also steered by corruption, the disconnectedness of institutions, as well as the increase in the number of privatized security forces in the country.

The future of public security remains to be largely uncertain. However, education is playing a resounding role in eliminating social hierarchies in the Brazilian society (Snider 2-3).

The economic challenges facing democracy in Brazil

Research shows that Brazil is one of the countries in Latin America that have instituted a lot of changes in their economies, something that has immensely supported the growth of the economy. Brazil has fulfilled most of the attributes of a middle income economy having overcome most of the challenges that placed it in the category of least developed economies in the later years of the 20th century.

However, there is still an array of factors that still impede the country from attaining sustainable growth of the economy. According to Pio (para. 1), the democratic transition in Brazil is largely rooted in the economic crisis that faced the country in the 1970s, which made it hard to embrace military rule in the country.

Therefore, the country began to set up the structures of economic development through the promotion of local industries. These resulted in the transformation of the economy to an extent that the government was able to sustain most of its functions.

Unlike most of the countries that have closed economies that depend on oil and other natural economies in the region, the economy of Brazil is largely capitalistic. This makes the country to strongly fit within the international development framework (Safdar 141).

However, the integration of the country into the international economy and the accelerated pace of economic growth in the recent years has not fully transformed to economic welfare.

In a country where approximately 50 million people were living below the poverty line in the early years of the first decade of the 20th century, the failure of the government to institute a proper economic policy amounts to the abuse of the rights of the citizens.

This argument comes from the nature of economic policies that are implemented in the country without paying attention to the voices raised by the poor population in the country. The principles of democracy and participation in Brazil are highly impeded by the development agenda that is being fostered to promote economic independence.

However, the path that is taken in the enforcement of economic policies depicts the breaches of the rights of the poor citizens. Greater citizen participation does not receive significant attention in the key political and economic decisions that are made in the country.

An example that can be given here is the implementation of the land ownership structures of the Lula Regime without paying attention to the views of the public, which has predisposed the country to conflict over land and resources (de Staal 1).

Brazil is ranked as one of the most unequal nations in the world in terms of distribution of resources among its population.

Analysts argue that the broad gap of inequality in the county is not merely a sign of historical injustices that occurred in the country, but it also reflects the lack of consideration for the poor by virtue of sidelining the needs of the poor in the political and economic plans and policies that are implemented in the country.

This gap further subjects the country to an economic turmoil and a possibility of a mayhem situation between the government and the citizens who feel that they are being subjected to economic injustices by the political regime (de Staal 1).

According to de Staal (1), the political structure of Brazil is not also fully flourished. It is argued that political power in Brazil is controlled by a web of feudal networks. The feudal networks control resources and have a lot of influence on the political discourse in the country. A lot of economic ills in Brazil remain to be something that cannot be easily put to rest.

Power is hidden in the hands of the people who control the economy. Moreover, these groups of people receive better treatment from the government and the law enforcement agencies in the country. Moreover, the feudal networks also promote relations with the criminal gangs in the country, thereby undermining the attributes of security for their benefit.


According to the argument presented in the paper, it is worthwhile to conclude that Brazil has made tremendous progress in embracing democracy. The observation in the paper points to the fact that most of the attributes of democracy in Brazil are founded on the aspects of development through the strengthening of institutions in the political and economic realms.

Most of the challenges that hinder the growth of democracy in Brazil are historical in nature and keep recurring in the present political environment in the country. The issue of inequality in the social and economic arenas continues to be the main impediment to the growth of institutions in the country.

Moreover, it is bound to keep imposing negative pressure on the growth of democracy in the country. Overcoming the issue means digging deep into the history and ironing out the structures of inequality that make Brazil the most unequal nation state in the world.

Works Cited

De Staal, Gilles. “Le Monde Diplomatique. 2003. Web.

Duarte, Adriano Luiz. “Neighborhood Associations, Social Movements, And Populism In Brazil, 1945-1953.” Hispanic American Historical Review 89.1 (2009): 111-139. Print.

ECLAC. Latin American and Caribbean Unemployment Rate Could Fall to 6.2% in 2013. 2013. Web.

Joseph, Tiffany D. “How Does Racial Democracy Exist In Brazil? Perceptions From Brazilians In Governador Valadares, Minas Gerais.” Ethnic & Racial Studies 36.10 (2013): 1524-1543. Print.

Mainwaring, Scott, and Douglas Chalmers. . 2012. Web.

Picq, Manuela. “Aljazeera. 2012. Web.

Pio, Carlos. Brazil: Political and Economic Lessons From Democratic Transitions. 2013. Web.

Power, Timothy J. “Brazilian Democracy As A Late Bloomer-Reevaluating The Regime In The Cardoso-Lula Era.” Latin American Research Review 45.(2010): 218-247. Print.

Safdar, Mustafa. “Brazil: Opportunities And Challenges.” Brown Journal Of World Affairs 17.1 (2010): 135-143. Print.

Snider, Colin Michael. “Institutional Stability And Social Uncertainty: Unpacking The Challenges Of Democracy In Brazil In The Twenty-First Century.” H-Net Reviews In The Humanities & Social Sciences (2012): 1-5. Print.

Conniff, Michael L. Populism in Latin America. Tuscaloosa, Ala: University Alabama Press, 2012. Print.

Sachs, Ignacy, Jorge Wilheim, and Paulo S. M. S. Pinheiro. Brazil: A Century of Change. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Internet resource.

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