Between Tyranny and Anarchy: A History of Democracy in Latin America, 1800-2006

By Paul W. Drake | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Theory and History of Latin American
Democracy, 1800–2006

The title of this book comes, appropriately, from Simon Bolívar. In the opening decades of the nineteenth century, the Liberator expressed his exasperation at forging a democratic republic that could withstand the opposing dangers of “tyranny and anarchy.” Ever since then, his descendants have grappled with the classic dilemma of crafting a democracy that provides order without dictatorship, and liberty without disintegration.1

Juxtaposed to its venerable fame as a home for despotism, Latin America also boasts one of the planet's longest, deepest, and richest histories of experiments with democracy. Along with the United States, the region hosts “the oldest continuous republics of the contemporary world.”2 Occupying a unique niche between the West and the developing world, Latin America offers an extraordinary laboratory for examining democratic movements, ideas, and institutions. “In no other part of the world have more persistent efforts been made to preserve freedom under such unfavorable circumstances.”3

Amidst a history dominated by dictators, Latin America's struggle for democracy—like its battles for economic development, social justice, and human rights—was a protracted, erratic, and painful process. From the beginning in the nineteenth century, they sowed seeds that took a long time to sprout, let alone flourish. In the long view, these flawed (and often futile) attempts to instill democratic values and rules bore fruit. Their early themes,

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