Guy Farmer: democracy in decline in Latin America
Wall Street Journal Latin America scholar Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote last week about threats to democracy in our hemisphere in a column titled “Electoral College Lessons for Latins.” “Latin political instability is raging again,” she wrote. “The latest real-time horror show is set in Colombia, where violence has escalated since the government announced in late April that it intended to raise taxes for the middle class.”
When I served in Colombia in the mid-1970s, this beautiful country was recovering from decades of guerrilla violence, but more than 40 years later the guerrillas are back with a vengeance. “The pro-Venezuelan guerrillas and thugs have used the popular backlash against the tax reforms to block roads, vandalize property and fight with the police,” O’Grady reported. If this sounds familiar to you, think Seattle and Portland.
O’Grady said one of the reasons for the violent unrest is that Colombia chooses its leaders by direct popular vote and not by an American-style electoral college system that protects against the tyranny of the majority. “Elections can be won by a candidate who ignores much of the country,” she explained. “The resulting neglect fuels discontent.”
This would be true in the United States if we dropped out of the Electoral College because candidates would only need to campaign in a few populated states like California, Florida, New York, and Texas. Ms. O’Grady revealed that a Canadian research company, the Frasier Institute, found that with a simple majority vote, “Joe Biden could have won in 2020 by winning just 193 of the 3,155 US counties, plus the District of Columbia ”.
Back in Latin America, O’Grady wrote that in 2018 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and main contender Fernando Haddad “made it to the second round without visiting 12 of Brazil’s 26 states.” Conclusion: go where the votes are, ignoring the rest of the country and leading to the decline of democracy.
Of course, there are many other reasons Latin American voters lean to the left, including rampant corruption and economic inequality. This is certainly true in Peru, where I served in the 1980s and where Marxist candidate Pedro Castillo, a Fidel Castro clone, leads “establishment” candidate Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former president. Alberto Fujimori, who is in prison after being convicted of corruption and human rights abuse. In recent weeks, however, Ms. Fujimori has bridged the gap between herself and Castillo, and is now trailing the Marxist 41-44 ahead of the June 6 presidential election.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, where I served for seven years during my foreign service career, Socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro, another Castro clone, seized the headquarters of the last opposition newspaper last week. of the country, El Nacional. The Wall Street Journal reported that “National Guards dressed in bulletproof vests and brown berets attacked the 162,000 square foot El Nacional property” in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Caracas, seizing its assets. Fortunately, the influential newspaper continues to publish online.
I have a personal connection with El Nacional because one of the local press chiefs I hired at the American Embassy in Caracas, a brilliant young journalist, later became the editor of the newspaper. If she is still alive, she is probably living in exile or under house arrest, a sad story of living in a socialist dictatorship.
I’m afraid for the future of my Latin American friends, but I hope they manage, as they usually do.
Guy W. Farmer has lived and worked in Latin America for over 20 years during his diplomatic career.