Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

1
Democratic and Authoritarian Traditions

Donald L. Herman


DEMOCRATIC TRADITION

Elite Accommodation

Today most Latin American countries contain elements of the democratic tradition similar to the Anglo-American practice of liberal democracy, including the procedural norms of freedom of organization and political action, extensive citizen participation, individual rights, political parties, interest-group activity, and a relatively free press. Although many scholars contend that democratic procedures are foreign imports, grafted onto the Latin American societies by political elites who are convinced that modernization requires them, the democratic tradition has a comparatively long history in several of the countries. The basis of that tradition is an accommodation among the elites of the principal political parties. Once they agree that democracy is in their interests and that violent conflicts between them should be brought to an end, they must be prepared to develop a long-term mutually beneficial relationship. Thus, a crucial variable in Latin America is the democratic leaders' attitude toward the political opposition. Not only must they accept the idea of opposition as an abstract principle but also the legitimacy of specific opposition groups and the interests they represent. This requires a degree of tolerance and willingness to compromise that is very difficult, it not impossible, for many Latin American political leaders. 1

Elite accommodation in Colombia and Venezuela exemplifies varying degrees of consociational practices. 2 According to Lipjhart, the elites in a political system consciously agree to a set of rules to help sustain the democratic regime against threats. Rather than appeals to mass social mobilization that may weaken the tenuous democratic edifice in its early stages, they rely on consultation and

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