Latin America’s Lost Illusions: Dispirited Politics

Issue Date April 2003
Volume 14
Issue 2
Page Numbers 108-122
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A rash of commentaries have suggested that elections last year in Brazil and Ecuador tilted Latin America far leftward. The new presidents Lula and Lino Gutierrez are portrayed as the political heirs of Castro and Chavez. This is nonsense. Latin America is not jettisoning democratic politics or shifting toward the populist left. Still, the quality of democratic politics is mediocre across the region and, in many places, is deteriorating. Some countries, prominently Argentina and Venezuela, are in crisis. Yet, politics in region’s two largest countries-Brazil and Mexico-is increasingly robust, and they may soon join Latin America’s perennially vibrant trio of Costa Rica, Chile and Uruguay. What endangers Latin American democracy today is not demagogic politicians, ambitious military officers, or authoritarian ideologies. It is lackluster performance-the failure of governments to meet their citizens’ needs.