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 Poverty, Capitalism and the meaning of Democracy: Three key issues for the development of Democracy in the region.

These are some considerations that I would like to share with you regarding the current situation in the region concerning the problems that Democracy faces in Latin America. From my point of view there are some issues that must be considered in order to guarantee not only the stability in the region but also the consolidation of democratic regimes. Otherwise the Latin-American countries could go back to the times of right wing dictatorships and “socialist revolutions” that resulted only in poverty and underdevelopment.

Poverty

It is a fact that Latin-American countries have experienced economic growth in the last decade and, in consequence, poverty rates have dropped. Brazil is a good example, where good policies combined with stable growth are reducing poverty at a fast rate.  This seems to be, more or less, a common trend in most of Latin America. Nowadays, only one out of three people live in poverty. Nonetheless, it’s also a reality that a vast group of people in the region live miserably. The hemisphere is living good times right now, but it is only after some years that we will see if the steps taken by Latin American governments at the moment were pointed to the elimination of poverty through excellent education and job and productivity opportunities, or were meant as “temporal relieves” driven by populist goals.  It is my belief that governments are leading their countries through the first option. Also I think that institutions are consolidating in the region and, as long they work well, the poverty issue will be effectively dealt. The major threat a country faces in relation to this problem is populism and messianic leaders because by nature, these regimes don’t want to eradicate poverty, only maintain it at a “tolerable” level, with subsidizes that are meant to keep a captive electoral population, and not to emancipate them in order to avoid making them true citizens, autonomous and responsible for their own actions. This threat is latent in Venezuela

Democracy

It is a personal perception that in Latin America, or at least in my country (Venzuela), the people truly don’t understand the meaning of democracy. It seems that people only associate democracy to elections. Elections are only part of democracy; for me it is more important alternation in office between opposition and government and the respect of minorities than elections itself. Democracy is not the tyranny of majority. Many countries in the region are getting used to reelections for example. This could become a bad habit in countries were institutions are not strong enough as Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador, and therefore lead a party to abuse of its power in office, basing their legitimacy only in the election processes won by them. Understanding democracy so simply could work against it. Democracy is much more than I have described and the task Latin America has ahead is one related to the strengthened of democratic institutions and the formation of citizens compromised with a more wide definition of what a liberal democracy is. This means a front battle against autocratic or “caudillistas” practices at any level of the State, problems which have plagued our history since independence.

Capitalism

Finally, it seems that a vast majority of Latin American countries finally understood that the capitalist model of production is the only way towards prosperity. It is arguable whether the State should have a more active and regulatory role in the capitalist system, to avoid certain bad effects of the model or not, but that is another debate. Unfortunately there are some countries, especially Venezuela, that are trapped in an anachronistic discussion between a “fair” and nationalized economy, or a mixed economy with a public and a private sphere. In Venezuela we have the case of a socialist State that wants to reduce the influence and size of the private sector, through legal or force means (i.e. massive expropriations) destroying the productive apparatus of the nation and discouraging foreign (unless we are talking of allied regimes as Cuba, Iran, China and Russia) and specially national investments. The consequence is a country with a depressed economy and the highest inflation and scarcity rates of the region, dependent of foreign importations and populist policies oriented to centralize all the power in the State.  As a result citizens are each time more dependent on the “welfare” of the State and less free to choose how to live their lives. Hence there are fewer incentives to generate wealth and, when oil prices drop, there is less wealth to redistribute and more poverty.

When countries like Venezuela understand that the private sector is not a “fascist enemy”, but an ally to tackle the problems of the nation, then those countries will have opportunities for prosperity and progress as happens in several countries of the region at the moment.