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Reversing Latin America’s Democratic Decay

The best way to safeguard democracy in Latin America is to build strong welfare states. But since this is a medium- to long-term project, meeting the short-term threat of authoritarian populism will require more immediate solutions.

NEW YORK – Recent years have not been good ones for democracy in Latin America. Despite being home to just 8.4% of the world’s population, the region accounted for 26% of total COVID-19 deaths (as of last December), and in 2020, it experienced a fall in GDP twice as steep as the global average, with tens of millions of people pushed into poverty. Just as the recovery got underway, Russia launched its war against Ukraine – dealing another blow to Latin America’s economy and political stability.

Starting in the mid-1980s, following a long period dominated by military dictatorships, Latin America experienced a democratic renaissance. But its score in the Democracy Index, produced annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), has been declining for seven years. And popular perceptions have declined along with it: Latinobarómetro reports that, from 2010 to 2019, support for democracy across Latin America fell from 63% to 49%.

While this figure exceeded 60% in Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, these are the only three Latin American countries that the EIU does not label “hybrid regimes,” “authoritarian regimes,” or “flawed democracies.” But even here, there are disturbing trends. For example, while Chile regained the status of “full democracy” in the EIU’s index in 2022, Latinobarómetro finds that only 2% of Chileans would agree. A whopping 53% consider their country a “democracy with major problems.”

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