Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Democracy and the Separation of Powers: Threats, Dilemmas, and Opportunities in Latin America (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Democracy and the Separation of Powers: Threats, Dilemmas, and Opportunities in Latin America (1)

Article excerpt

Abstract. The quality of Latin American democracy is threatened by elected presidents who concentrate power in the executive branch of government, the political influence of the armed forces, the weakness of the rule of law and judicial independence, the erosion of parties and representative institutions, and the persistence of long-standing patterns of violence and social exclusion. These threats largely arise from the tension--especially acute in Latin America due to certain structural, cultural, and institutional conditions--between the separation of powers and democracy. Although the post-Cold War international environment contributed to the prevention of a return to authoritarian rule, efforts by the international community to promote and defend democracy are constrained by the impossibility of fostering respect for the separation of powers without impinging upon national sovereignty. The global war on terrorism will diminish the will to question domestic practices that violate democracy while encouraging the expansion of executive power throughout the Americas.

Resume. La qualite de la democratie latino-americaine se trouve menacee par le fait que les presidents elus cherchent a concentrer le pouvoir au sein de la branche executive de l'Etat, ainsi que par l'influence politique croissante des forces armees, la faiblesse de l'autorite de la loi et de l'independance judiciaire, l'erosion des partis politiques et des assemblees representatives, et la pratique endemique de la violence et de l'exclusion sociale. De telles menaces resultent en grande partie de la tension--particulierement vive en Amerique latine a cause de certaines conditions structurelles, culturelles, et institutionnelles--entre la separation des pouvoirs et la democratie. Bien que le climat international d'apres la Guerre froide ait contribue a empecher le retour a l'autoritarisme, les efforts entrepris par la communaute internationale pour l'instauration et la defense de la democratie ont ete restreints par l'impossibilite de favoriser le respect de la separation des pouvoirs sans porter atteinte au principe de la souverainete nationale. Il est probable que la guerre mondiale contre le terrorisme se traduira par une moindre volonte de critiquer certaines pratiques nationales qui violent la democratie, favorisant ainsi l'expansion du pouvoir executif a travers tous les pays d'Amerique latine.

Introduction

Latin America has made uneven but significant progress toward establishing democratic political systems in recent decades, and the democracies that have emerged, although imperfect, have endured major economic and social stresses. (2) It is too early to assume that the oscillations between democracy and authoritarianism that typified the region during much of the twentieth century have come to a rest, but elections have become the near-universal means of political succession, and for the most part they are free and fair. Even so, the optimism that accompanied transitions to democracy in the 1980s has given way to angst. (3) It is not the golpe de estado (military overthrow of civilian government) that the pundits fear so much as the rise of elected leaders, like Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2001) or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez (1998-), who trample on constitutional guarantees.

Elected leaders like Fujimori and Chavez (4) have used their power to eliminate checks and balances and create "delegative democracies," if not disguised autocracies. (5) In extreme cases they concentrate substantial executive power to the detriment of courts and legislatures. The tension between democracy and the constitutional separation of powers, so acute in a number of countries in the region, is a timehonoured theme in the study of politics. (6) The original doctrine--which held that government should be divided into three separate branches, each with its corresponding function, and that no one branch should encroach on the competence of the others (7)--was profoundly conservative, aimed at protecting the nobility from legislative majorities as much as the excesses of monarchy. …

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