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

By Paul W. Drake | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Oligarchic Republicanism,
1880s–1920s

In Latin America, the first era of classic liberal economics and politics reigned from the 1880s through the 1920s. In broad terms, it resembled the second era of essentially the same paradigm from the 1980s to the 2000s. In both periods, the globalization of open market systems coincided with the stabilization of civilian, constitutional, elected, representative democracies—although fewer in the first instance than the second. In both episodes, globalization opened the way to rising U.S. influence in favor of these low-intensity, protected democracies. In the first epoch, the Colossus of the North exerted leverage mainly in the Caribbean Basin; in the second, throughout the hemisphere, as U.S. hegemony expanded.1

In both cases, the élites intended these democracies to be constrained, largely devoid of mass mobilization or redistributive social reforms. Because of the marginalization of the lower classes and their social issues, both experiences witnessed rising discontent with these procedural liberal democracies. This disenchantment recapitulated the longstanding debate in Latin America between protected and popular democracies.

The big difference between the two liberal epochs was the scope of legal electoral participation. A narrow oligarchy excluded most of the population in the first instance, but universal suffrage prevailed in the second. Because of the tight restrictions on voting and governance, this first fifty years of liberal orthodoxy in Latin America constituted oligarchic republicanism rather than full-fledged democracy.

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