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Democratic Breakdown in Latin America Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2021


What causes a democratic breakdown? Alternatively, what was the role of leadership and political choice in causing the breakdown of the democratic regime in Latin America? The two question forms the backbone to my research. This research paper is based on comparative politics research on democratic backslide. Essentially, this research project examines factors that surround the transition of Latin American countries from being a democratic government to a weak non-democratic regime. According to Podems, a democracy is the system of government in which everyone is entitled to the same number of rights and freedoms and is treated equally (10). The provided definition is rather broad since there are several interpretations of the concept of democracy, some scholars leaning to defining it as social justice and equity (Podems 11). However, the situation observed in Latin America does not align with any of the described notions and could be defined as dictatorship for the most part (Frantz and Geddes 5). The phenomenon of dictatorship is, in turn, defined as the absolute authority of the government that cannot be changed with contested elections (LeVan 142).

Democratic breakdown defines the state of gradual decline of a country’s quality of democracy. Alternatively, democratic breakdown is a term that characterize the phenomenon of democratic degradation (Prillaman 37). Precisely, democratic breakdown, democratic failure, democratic collapse, democratic backsliding, and democratic decay, while having different shades of meaning, lead to the same loss of democracy and introduction of an authoritarian regime (Huq and Ginsburg 80). In order to fully understand the scope of democratic breakdown, it would be essential to master the source of a stable democracy. Within theoretical literature of democratizations, there are various factors that forms dictate the existence of a stable democracy in a state.

Notably, scholars have a general agreement that none of the factors is sufficient by itself. In other words, combination of favorable factors ensures there is a stable democracy in a state (Foa and Mounk 7). Most studies on democratic success are based within socioeconomic, or political-institution theories (Huq and Ginsburg 83). In contrary, democratic failure is as a result of combination of unfavorable factors. In most cases, the gradual decline of the quality of democracy is associated with weakening of political institutions (Foa and Mounk 9). In addition, democratically elected leaders have a bigger role in causing democratic backsliding. Leaders who tend to utilize incremental tactics, instead of revolutionary ends up causing democratic backsliding. Economic scholars have also associated democratic breakdown with economic inequalities (Foa and Mounk 12).

Speaking of democratic backsliding, the Latin American community has been experiencing stress and experiencing serious challenges that have resulted to democratic decline (Frantz and Geddes 5). Lately, members of the public have little confidence in the government and the political regime (Debs 76). Since the beginning of the decade, there have been a reduction in the general support for democratic regime (Menaldo 544). In addition, people in Latin American are dissatisfied with their political institutions. They obviously have a reason for their anger. The kind of poverty in the Latin America is beyond explanation. Since 1980, there have been a period of economic decline. There is also bad quality of education; students in Latin America perform poorly, compared to their peers (Arias 2). Corruption has been a typical plague in most public institutions. The people of Latin America have no recognition of political vision. In spite of all these gaps, the Latin American government insists that it is a democratic regime. Like many scholars insists, the success or fall of a democratic regime is highly depends on the political leaders, political parties, social movements and most importantly political institutions in the country.


The described topic is crucial to political science since, by scrutinizing the threat of dictatorship in Latin America, it will help to develop strategies for managing similar threats to equality and mitigate the probability of authoritarian rule in Latin America. Thus, the analysis of the factors that may lead to the establishment of dictatorships across Latin America will provide an insightful analysis of dictatorship as a notion. Studying economic, political, and social factors that may incite the phenomenon will inform one about the methods of addressing it and minimizing the probability of its reappearance in the future.

Literature Review

In order to analyze the breakdown of democracy in Latin America, one will need to scrutinize the causes and factors that incite deviations from equity principles in the environment of Latin America. Although the political experience of each Latin American country is unique and defined by a set of specific factors that pertain to a particular setting, general tendencies in the problems with democracy can be outlined across Latin America (Myers 231). By studying the factors that have led to the political changes in the designated area, one will infer the strategies that can be utilized to prevent similar situations from occurring , as well as manage the problems within the said Latin American states.

Current Situation

Maintaining democracy within a particular state always represents a continuous effort of the community and the authorities that represent it. Therefore, with the lack of focus on the enhancement of the basic ideas of equality and the idea of egalitarian relationships within the Latin American community, a range of Latin American countries are currently on the verge of a democratic breakdown (“Democracy in Latin America”).

Key Factors

When addressing the main causes for democracies to collapse, one should mention economic and communication problems. Due to the rise in poverty and the aggravation of the financial situation within a state, the opportunity for it to be seized by an authoritarian party rises exponentially (Arias 2). In a vast majority of Latin American countries, the proverbial lack of economic stability, including gigantic inflation rates and plummeting levels of well-being among citizens, creates the consistent threat of a dictatorship (Prillaman 11). As soon as a leader that represents themselves as a volunteer in the cause of people emerges, general audiences are most likely to support the person or party in question, thus creating premises for a revolt (Ferguson 14). Thus, due to the specifics of a dictatorship and the management of information in it, a vast range of people remain oblivious to the subject matter. In addition, poverty and economic challenges obstruct the way toward promoting democratic changes in Latin American states (Arias 3). Still, with the rise in the strength of the opposition, alterations in the system of state management have been observed.

However, the presence of bureaucracy and the development of nepotism in the political context are just as likely to cause the creation of dictatorship and the decay of democracy. As the Venezuelan scenario showed, the increase in the levels of corruption within a state along with a rise in social polarization leads effectively to the establishment of a totalitarian regime (Myers 218). Specifically, when considering the circumstances under which Nicolas Maduro came into power in Venezuela, one will realize that manipulations with oil prices and access to economy-related data have contributed to his political success (Myers 221). Therefore, the observed scenario aligns with the assumption that the lack of democratic principles leads to intrinsic tensions within a society.

Another important factor that may lead to the development of dictatorship in Latin American countries is the lack of tolerance toward people and parties that express opinions opposing those that are voiced by the ruling class. The refusal to acknowledge opposing views is central to the development of anti-democratic sentiments within a society and creating the breeding ground for authoritarian principles of social interactions (Puddington 31). Arguably, the concept of giving voice to every single participant of a political discussion could be rendered as dubious given the possibility of providing potential dictators with a platform to promote their ideas (Arias 5).

However, by denying the idea of people voiding their opinions as the foundational principle of a democratic society, one creates the premise for destroying democracy and ultimately replacing it with a totalitarian government, as Levitsky and Ziblatt warn (15). The specified problem could be observed in the Venezuelan conflict described above, where people were prohibited from voicing their concerns and demanding a fair system (Arias 2). The refusal to present the political opposition with a voice can also be observed in a range of other Latin American states, including Nicaragua and Venezuela (Myers 223). The foundation for the social discontent has been provided in a vast majority of Latin American states, with the constant control of the ruling party over political activeness of citizens and the extent to which the opposing views can be heard.

In addition, with the lack of economic stability, the increase in poverty, and the absence of access to verifiable and credible information, people are very likely to follow the lead of radical actors within the political system of a state. For example, the collapse of democracy in Chile in 1973 as Augusto Pinochet used the tactic of a military coup deserves a mentioning (Myers 225). The situation in question is a clear example of the lack of understanding of the effects that the revolution will entail for Chilean citizens. In turn, the moderation of the state policies in regard to the representation of key political ideas and trends is likely to minimize the probability of a revolt and the following establishment of a dictatorship within a state.

At present, the situation within Latin America remains consistently unstable. Citizens are facing the consistent threat of democratic values being overthrown due to the rise in the number of agents that increase the levels of political polarization within the Latin American society (Prillaman 18). Facilitating a smooth transition to democracy is currently one of the primary goals for Latin American states. Due to the long-lasting propensity toward dictatorship in many Latin American states, it is critical to shape people’s attitudes toward the notion of democracy and the values that it upholds. The described step will allow reducing a significant amount of pressure under which Latin American citizens live, as well as bring down the rates of the political tension observed at the international level (Lust and Waldner 3). The described changes are critical to the successful establishment of democratic principles as the cornerstone of the state legislation and political decisions.

Probable Outcomes

Changes in people’s perception of social and political interactions requires significant time, which is why it is important to wait until the necessary changes are firmly integrated into the political systems of the states and institutionalized at tall levels. The main challenge that South American states are currently facing involves shaping the environments that were created as democratic yet gradually became authoritarian. Changing the perspectives of their citizens is also an essential task since it will set the platform for change at all levels, including the social, political, economic, and cultural ones (Tumin 146). For instance, there seems to have been a significant shift in general perception of regimes in numerous states, the case of Venezuela being the most widely spoken currently (Prillaman 13). With the acceptance of the opportunities that democracy offers, citizens of Latin American countries will be able to shape their future.

Prevention Measures

Due to the lingering presence of the political crisis in a range of states in Latin America, it is critical to pay attention to the source of people’s current insecurities. According to Myers, most Latin American citizens show the drastic drop in confidence and certainty about political, economic, and social institutions that are expected to protect their rights (218). Thus, the combination of political, economic, and cultural concerns needs to be seen as the root cause of the current disturbances in the political landscape of Latin American states (Myers 219). Consequently, introducing tools for citizens to receive support from should be deemed as the most urgent measure that needs to be taken.

It is also essential to manage the issue of education in Latin America. As the overview of the key contributors to the current problem has shown, the lack of awareness among citizens coupled with the absence of political knowledge causes the levels of their activity to drop (Waqas and Muqaddas 11). The resulting lack in initiative among people causes the extent of dictatorship to increase and impose even greater restrictions on citizens, causing them more suffering and experiencing increasingly deteriorating living conditions (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán 126). Therefore, alterations to the availability of education and the quality thereof, as well as the opportunities that it provides for employment and increased quality of life need to be studied further. With the sufficient amount of knowledge and information, residents of South American states that are currently lingering between democracy and dictatorship will be able to make a joined effort to oppose the authorities at the helm in case the political situation becomes critical and the government starts abusing power.

The management of political pluralism is another essential step that has to be taken in order to integrate the principles of democracy into the Latin American society. It should be noted that the described stage requires particular caution since its mismanagement may entail vastly negative consequences for Latin American citizens. Although opponents may voice the ideas that are in direct opposition to the needs of society, it is crucial to create the setting where these ideas can be discussed. At the same time, creating the setting in which the state is governed by a single political system that does not allow for any deviations from democratic principles is essential. As the study by Waqas and Muqaddas states, “Democracy is a system of rule by laws, and for the proper functioning of the rule of law, the unity of law is very important” (10). With the analysis of the proposed solutions, the absurdity of obviously dangerous ideas that threaten the political well-being, democratic ideas, and economic stability of the Latin American population will become obvious. When silencing the opposition, one, in turn, will create the breeding ground for a possible development of a totalitarian regime and the shaping of a dictatorship.

Introducing order into the political culture of Latin American countries is another step of implementing democratic philosophies and principles in the target setting. Currently, a range of Latin American states are facing disruptions in the performance of their political systems. The levels of corruption are spiraling out of control in countries such as Colombia (Myers 226). As a result, regulations and legal restrictions do not serve their purposes, whereas legal services fail to protect people from organized crime (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán 128). Therefore, restructuring the current political culture, reinforcing legal standards for citizens, and introducing new tools for managing crime more effectively should be seen as the essential stages of reducing the threat of dictatorship being integrated into the Latin American political system.

Exploring the factors that have defined the downfall of democracy in the context of Latin American society is critical to the management of the current situation in a range of states, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia. In addition, it is imperative to introduce tools for monitoring alterations in the attitudes toward democratic principles and laws in other states in order to locate an emergent threat to democracy and offer people support in managing it. As the form of the questions indicate, they are mostly qualitative, with the focus on dissecting the nature of the phenomenon of dictatorship, as well as the study of changes in people’s attitudes toward the existing regime.

The study under analysis is expected to shed substantial light on the problem of faltering democracies in Latin America and the methods of introducing the notions of equality and equity into their governments. However, the research also includes several key limitations. The main obstacle on the way to discovering the approaches for subverting the current regime concerns the issues associated with the selection of the research method. Due to the use of the qualitative method and, specifically, the application of case study to the research, the outcomes of the analysis may be slightly biased due to the inevitable introduction of a personal perspective into the interpretation of observations and retrieved information (Tumin 151). Therefore, the research will be limited by the extent of its objectivity. Moreover, time constraints will have to be mentioned since the research strives to embrace the context of entire Latin America within a considerably small amount of time. Thus, generalizations and possible omission of less significant factors may occur.

Nevertheless, by selecting reputable and credible sources of information, one is likely to build a comprehensive analysis of the situation with democracy in Latin America. By considering the similarities and differences between the issues and threats that democratic regimes in different states of Latin America face, one will develop a general idea of the essential factors that lead to the disruption of democratic principles within a state. Moreover, the analysis will lead to the reassessment of the measures that can be utilized in order to inhibit the progression of dictatorship in the selected states. By studying the key factors that set boundaries to the effective practice of democracy principles, one will learn to address the described limitations on a global scale and intervene timely in order to assist people in keeping their basic rights intact.

Deconstructing the issues that residents of South America are currently facing is essential both from the local and global perspectives. Supporting people that have found themselves in the clutches of dictatorship is the short—term objective in the case under analysis, while understanding how democracies are destroyed is a long-term one. By examining the problem at hand, one will create a paradigm for avoiding the scenarios that involve subversion of democratic values and their replacement with dictatorship rhetoric.

Research Questions

Thus, the key questions to be answered in the course of this research are as follows:

What political, economic, social, and cultural factors have contributed to the failure of democracy in Latin America?

The connection between some of the social and economic aspects pf people’s lives and the development of dictatorship tendencies in the government has already been established, yet they require further scrutiny. For instance, the lack of economic stability coupled with the development of a political party that promises economic and cultural resurgence once some democratic concepts are sacrificed inevitably leads to the creation of a totalitarian regime. However, a more profound analysis of the issue is needed.

What similarities does the threat of democracy loss shares across the specified Latin American states?

Despite significant differences in the specifics of political, economic, and cultural lives of residents of Latin American states, the general trend in abandoning democratic principles for the sake of ostensible economic stability that is expected to occur (Huq and Ginsburg 91). In addition, in a range of cases, the transition from dictatorship to democracy is often slackened in the Latin American environment due to economic, financial, and political constraints, causing the creation of a hybrid entity that does not allow the principles of equality and equity to blossom.

How have people’s attitudes toward the idea of democracy have changed in Latin American countries over the past few years?

The difficulties in helping people to shift the perspective from living under the authoritarian system to the life in a democratic state is also one of the essential constituents of the problem. Due to significant challenges faced by citizens of Latin American states on a regular basis, encouraging them to accept the idea of democratic values as the foundation for their future becomes problematic.

What are the main reasons for the identified changes to have occurred?

The role of media cannot possibly be overestimated in promoting democracy-related ideas in Latin American countries. With the rise in the availability of information, including the opposing views regarding political regimes in South America and the available alternatives to these political structures, particularly, democracy, the perception of authoritarian regimes seems to have been changing toward highly negative one (Arias 2).

What strategies could have been used to prevent the problems with democracy from taking place?

Introducing the notion of equity and democratic ideas would have helped to avoid the crisis.

What approaches can be applied to manage the existing situation in Latin America and minimize the threat of democracy failure in the future?

To manage the situation, one will need to change the relationship between the political authority and the state citizens. The government will have to represent the needs of its people and focus on addressing key economic, financial, and sociocultural issues within the state.

Works Cited

Arias, Oscas. “Democracy in Latin America: Success and Challenges.” ReVista, 2002, Web.

Debs, Alexandre. “Living by the Sword and Dying by the Sword? Leadership Transitions in and out of Dictatorships.” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 60, no. 1, 2016, pp. 73-84.

“Democracy in Latin America.” ReVista, 2002, Web.

Ferguson, Peter A. Canadian Political Science Association, 2004, Web.

Foa, Roberto Stefan, and Yascha Mounk. “The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 27, no. 3, 2016, pp. 5-17.

Frantz, Erica, and Barbara Geddes. “The Legacy of Dictatorship for Democratic Parties in Latin America.” Journal of Politics in Latin America, vol. 8, no. 1, 2016, pp. 3-32.

Huq, Aziz, and Tom Ginsburg. “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.” UCLA Law Review, vol. 65, 2018, pp. 78-169.

LeVan, Carl A. Dictators and Democracy in African Development: The Political Economy of Good Governance in Nigeria. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future. Crown, 2018.

Lust, Ellen, and David Waldner. Institution of International Education, 2015, Web.

Mainwaring, Scott, and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán. “Democratic Breakdown and Survival.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, pp. 123-37.

Menaldo, Victor. “Democracy, Elite Bias, and Redistribution in Latin America.” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 131, no. 3, 2016, pp. 541-569.

Myers, David J. “Venezuela: Political Decay amid the Struggle for Regime Legitimacy.” Latin American Politics and Development, edited by Harvey F. Kline, Christine J. Wade and Howard J. Wiarda, Routledge, 2018, pp. 217-244.

Podems, Donna. Democratic Evaluation and Democracy: Exploring the Reality. Information Age Publishing, 2017.

Prillaman, William C. The Judiciary and Democratic Decay in Latin America: Declining Confidence in the Rule of Law. Praeger, 2000.

Puddington, Arch. Freedon House, 2017, Web.

Tumin, Jonathan. “The Theory of Democratic Development.” Theory and Society, vol. 11, no. 2, 1982, pp. 143-64.

Waqas, Muhammad, and Muqaddas Khattak. “Democracy in Pakistan: Problems and Prospects in Making Informed Choices.” International Journal of Social Sciences and Management, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 9-11.

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