Democracy in Latin America: (Re)Constructing Political Society

By Manuel Antonio Garretón M.; Edward Newman | Go to book overview
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7
Social dimensions: Ethnicity
Rodolfo Stavenhagen

Social dimensions of democracy

The debate on the links between political democracy and social and economic issues is as old as democracy itself. However, it has re-emerged in recent years in the framework of what has been called (perhaps overoptimistically) a third wave of democratization in the twentieth century. In this process, two world regions have stood out in the latter decades of the century: Eastern Europe and Latin America, where the problems and struggles of building democratic societies have challenged the imagination and analytical skills of scholars.

Most Latin American countries have been formal democracies since the beginning of their independent existence in the nineteenth century, but they have never been able to achieve the stature of fully democratic polities including equal rights for all citizens, governmental accountability, an independent judiciary, and a widely shared democratic political and civic culture. As military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes began to crumble in the 1980s a number of Latin American societies attempted earnestly to build up their democratic institutions and institute credible and participatory electoral mechanisms. Some have been more successful in this than others, while in some states there have been worrisome reversals. At any rate, it soon became clear that electoral politics alone could not resolve the fundamental issues of democracy. Indeed, the justifiable concern over the transition to, and consolidation of, political

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