Latin America Erupts: The Danger of Democratic Delinquency

Issue Date July 2021
Volume 32
Issue 3
Page Numbers 78-93
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This article addresses one of the major weaknesses of democracy in contemporary Latin America. The region is very varied (several non-democracies are also present). The analysis focuses mostly on the two largest populations (Brazil and Mexico) but the argument also has relevance both across much of the subcontinent, and also more generally. The weakness stressed here is the constellation of “democratic delinquencies” that have been highlighted by recent high-visibility court rulings with macropolitical ramifications. But underlying meso- and micro-supportive structures also need consideration. Although the worst excesses covered in these court processes are massive criminal conspiracies, not mere “delinquencies,” the evidence extends to a wider penumbra of delinquent activities that if left uncorrected can produce a “termite” effect on the whole democratic system. When such democratic delinquencies are allowed free rein, the cumulative result can be regime threatening. The main source of this weakness should be traced to dysfunctions of democratic politics rather than to intrusions from external authoritarian sources. But there is an upside to this diagnosis—such weaknesses can (in principle) be countered by corrective reforms driven essentially from within.

About the Author

Laurence Whitehead is senior research fellow in politics at Nuffield College, Oxford University. His books include Latin America: A New Interpretation (2006).

View all work by Laurence Whitehead