Debate

Should Sweden leave Latin America in its fate?

In Latin America there are certainly economic resources, but the fragile democratic development is threatened by so-called hybrid regimes. Therefore, it is unfortunate that Sweden downgrades democracy support to the region, writes Elizabeth Bushby

In recent decades, most countries in Latin America have undergone a major crisis in party political systems. Old political parties that looked like the ones we have here in Europe collapsed, mainly due to the inability to represent large sections of the population and the fact that they failed to read and resolve the countries' internal conflicts. Therefore, so-called "outsiders" from the established political and democratic structures could seize power by successfully using democratic institutions as general elections. It has created confusion in the international community. Countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia are difficult to define; they are neither democracies nor dictatorships but clearly they both have authoritarian traits with repressive elements.

A good expression for this type in English is "competitive authoritarianism" or in Swedish, hybrid regimes. This type of regime is characterized by coming to power through general elections, but once in power, the parties' authoritarian traits develop and the regimes begin to implement mechanisms aimed at accumulating as much power as possible. Gradually, they seize decentralized power and limit the ability of other democratic institutions to operate under conditions that characterize a law-abiding democratic state. Both the parliament and the judicial system are being transformed into tools aimed at strengthening the regime's power.

The regimes use their "competitive" ability to legitimize themselves, that is, they survive as long as they get votes. They limit the space for freedom of movement and weaken political opponents and the CSO with, for example, a ban on funding from international organizations. When regimes discover that their support is diminishing, they develop into fully dictatorial regimes.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and current Nicolás Maduro, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and in the early 2000s Peru Fujimori have used this model when exercising power. Development for Peru was a transition to an unstable democracy, in Venezuela the trend is in the opposite direction. Bolivia has a "status quo" as long as the economy allows, but the situation is very unstable. The whole region rests on a fragile foundation and balances between developing towards authoritarian states or unstable democracies.

The economy is another important part of this resolution. All three of these countries have lived on being able to charge prices for raw materials for almost ten years, but now the prices of oil and minerals are starting to go down. This good economic situation has made these

regimes have been able to create clientelism with a large part of the population dependent on government subsidies for votes in the election. The problem now is that the forecasts for growth in the region are no longer positive. This raises concerns about future political and democratic developments.

Should Sweden leave Latin America in its fate? When I raise the issue in the context of development aid, most people say that the region has its own resources to be able to cope with its problems. But as I said, with a civil society kidnapped by an authoritarian hybrid regime, it will be very difficult to meet all the challenges that the coming years will bring. Yes, it is true that there are economic resources in the region, but democratic capital is weak and there is therefore reason for Swedish development assistance to unite democratic forces and strengthen them. It goes without saying that authoritarian governments have no interest in investing resources in democratic development themselves.

Therefore, it is unfortunate that Sweden downgrades its support for democracy and humanitarian aid to Latin America. The choice in this region towards a democratic or authoritarian development is as dependent as before on international support and capacity development. Dismantling this increases the risk that the countries will become fully developed dictatorships in a few years.

Elizabeth Bushby
Program Manager Latin America KIC

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