Jul 12, 2021 - World

Democracy retreats in the Americas

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during a June forum in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during a June forum in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

The chaotic aftermath of the Haitian president’s assassination — with at least four people claiming to hold power — has put the spotlight on the Caribbean country’s failing democracy.

The big picture: But there are signs of deterioration even in countries with deeper democratic foundations.

Driving the news: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is already issuing warnings that he might not accept the results of next year’s election if they aren’t tabulated with paper ballots, echoing Donald Trump and past Latin American leaders. 

  • That scenario is already playing out in Peru, where right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori has filed a flurry of legal challenges to stop her socialist opponent Pedro Castillo from being declared the winner of last month’s vote. 
  • Castillo won by just 44,263 votes, and Fujimori is insisting without evidence that at least 200,000 Castillo votes were fraudulent. 
  • Many of Fujimori’s supporters have rallied behind her “stop the steal” effort, making this a particularly combustible situation in a country with fragile democratic institutions. 

Nicaragua’s democracy has been deteriorating for some time, but the dictatorial trajectory of the Central American country is now more overt than ever.

  • President Daniel Ortega’s regime has been rounding up critics of all stripes ahead of elections in November, many of them on treason charges.
  • Some fear El Salvador could be heading in the same direction. Nayib Bukele, the populist president, has already marched troops into congress to pressure lawmakers and orchestrated the firing of top judges. After a landslide election victory in February’s legislative elections, he could push further still.
  • The democratic trends aren’t encouraging in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras either.

Democracy and authoritarianism have tended to come in waves in Latin America, and it’s clear what direction the tide is heading in at the moment.

  • The most recent Latinobarometro survey, from 2018, found that almost half of all Latin Americans are unsatisfied with democracy in their countries.
  • However in Cuba, the largest anti-government protests in decades erupted over the weekend, with protesters chanting for “freedom” in a display of dissent that was almost unthinkable on an island that has been under Communist control for six decades.

What to watch: Global democracy has been in decline for 15 consecutive years according to Freedom House, and President Biden has made reversing that trend a top foreign policy objective. There is plenty to keep him busy in the Americas.

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