Latin America Losing Hope in Democracy, Report Says
By WARREN HOGE
UNITED NATIONS, April 21 - A majority of Latin Americans say they would support the replacement of a democratic government with an "authoritarian" one if it could produce economic benefits, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday in Lima, Peru.
The report, a harsh self-analysis compiled by Latin Americans, says that the region, which has succeeded in freeing itself from a long history of military coups and dictatorships, is facing a new challenge to democratic rule because of popular disenchantment with its elected governments.
Created by the United Nations Development Program, the report looked at 18 nations and conducted opinion surveys of 18,643 citizens and lengthy interviews with 231 political, economic, social and cultural figures, including 41 current or former presidents and vice presidents.
Fifty-five percent of the people polled said they would support the replacement of a democratic government with an authoritarian one; 58 percent said they agreed that leaders should "go beyond the law" if they have to, and 56 percent said they felt that economic development was more important than maintaining democracy.
"This shows that democracy is not something that has taken hold of people's minds as strongly as we had thought it would," said Enrique Berruga Filloy, Mexico's ambassador to the United Nations.
The report says that while unhappiness with political leadership has a long history in Latin America, the people now complaining are faulting democracy itself.
Voter turnout is falling across the region, especially among the young, while civil unrest is on the rise.
Since 2000, four elected presidents in the 18 countries surveyed have been forced to step down because of plunges in public support, and others may now be in peril. The countries surveyed were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
All of these countries have either introduced or consolidated electoral democracy over the past 25 years, emerging from unrepresentative one-party politics or harsh and repressive military rule. All of them hold regular elections that meet international standards of fairness and enjoy a free press and basic civil liberties.
The report acknowledges distinctive circumstances in individual countries, but it argues that there is a broadly shared political culture and social structure that transcends them. "The common denominators of this phenomenon outweigh the many national differences," it says.
The report attributes the erosion of confidence in elected governments
to slow economic growth, social inequality and ineffective legal systems
and social services. Despite gains in human rights from the days of dictatorship,
most Latin Americans, it says, still cannot expect equal treatment before
the law because of abusive police practices, politicized judiciaries and