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

By Paul W. Drake | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Archaeology of Democracy After
Independence, 1820s–1870s

In the aftermath of independence, most Latin American attempts at democracy encountered frustration and failure. Amidst the ruins of these efforts, an archaeology of democracy can excavate the broken pots of protodemocratic civilizations, the shards of shattered institutions, the remains of ancient constitutions, the sarcophagi of buried leaders, and the relics of bygone voting sites. By digging in the more successful countries, it can also dust off the building blocks of the future. An historical archaeology can unearth the few pyramids to democracy that endured. Just as the Spaniards established continuity by mounting their cathedrals on top of the Indian temples, so the later leaders of democracy would erect their structures on the bases of these republican monuments. The less successful countries would find it harder to construct subsequent democratic edifices on the rubble of the post-independence period.1

From the 1820s to the 1870s, instability, conflict, and despotism dashed the democratic hopes from the independence years. While Brazil enjoyed the relative stability of its empire, tyranny and anarchy convulsed Spanish America. Between coercion and chaos, democracy stood on shaky ground in the former Spanish colonies. Countless dictatorships alternated with collapsing constitutions and governments. Many Liberals as well as Conservatives dreaded anarchy more than tyranny. They repeatedly supported elitist dictatorships out of their fear that popular democracy could lead to disorder or to popular authoritarianism behind demagogic caudillos.

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