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

By Paul W. Drake | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Populist Democracy,
1930s–1970s

In contrast with the era of oligarchic republicanism, protected democracy now gradually gave ground to popular democracy, usually in the form of populism. Neither protected democracies nor dictatorships disappeared from Latin America, but they increasingly contested control of the state with the new popular forces. In many countries, both social actors and political institutions moved toward popular democracy, yet the institutions lagged behind. Legislatures, judiciaries, and the armed forces proved most resistant to change, although even some of them became more receptive to the lower classes.

In tune with popular pressures, constitutions incorporated more individual and social rights. Presidents responded increasingly to mass constituencies and to the desires for national development. They expanded state programs for social welfare and economic modernization. Elections became more inclusive, participatory, secret, and honest. They encompassed many more women, younger people, illiterates, and urban and rural laborers. As a result, voting became more consequential for the marginalized majority. Political parties multiplied, adding many populists and leftists representing the working classes.

What changed more than the basic structure of political institutions was how those institutions were used. Popular leaders and followers tried to make these long-struggling democratic institutions live up to their ancient promises. Their efforts responded to the social changes accumulating since

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