In Latin America, democratic demands depend on who is in government.
Carl Schmitt warned us more than half a century ago about this way of understanding politics. Create an antithesis, material or imaginary, to justify the fierce struggle for power and prevent “the other” from winning and overcoming the “single and sacrosanct intentions” of one side. The good against the bad, the empire against the rebel alliance, the Avengers against Thanos.
From time to time, the sides present their chosen one, one anointed by the “stars” – or a political myth – who with an iron hand, a trumpet voice and great eloquence involves the citizens, offering them “the final victory” over enemies, anti-patriots or oligarchs.
The friend-enemy dichotomy
And if for this “the good guys” have to bypass the institutions, it doesn’t matter!
It does not matter whether it involves coups d’état, eliminating the rule of law, changing state institutions by force, attacking republican principles, turning a blind eye to attacks on the separation of powers, ignoring the legislative branch as a counterweight, or calling the democratic debate a “ block” when “the good guys” cannot impose their agenda.
Examples abound in Latin America, both on the left and on the right.
In El Salvador, the legislative majority of Nayib Bukele, the region’s most popular president, illegally fired members of the Supreme Court of Justice, taking control of the constitutional chamber.
And months later the Supreme Court authorized the president to seek re-election despite his unconstitutionality.
In Ecuador, former president Rafael Correa used popular consultations to legitimize his claims, arguing that his political project would save the country from the “claws of the Pelucones” and allow the “great homeland” to achieve its “second and definitive independence” .
Paradoxically, the current president, Guillermo Lasso, an opponent of Correa, announced the possibility of calling a referendum to unblock the supposed “blockade” of the National Assembly on his proposals for labor and tax reform.
But for his followers it doesn’t matter; its leader can bypass the institutions, since he belongs to the “good side”.
Institutionality? This is the first thing required of the opponent. But, when it comes to ours, we must not abuse it either, so that it does not become an obstacle to the “country project”.
And if it becomes an obstacle, it should be ignored, modified and, if necessary, eliminated. It happened to Alberto Fujimori in the 1992 coup in Peru, and to Correa in 2011. Álvaro Uribe tried in Colombia in 2010, and Evo Morales ran for a fourth re-election in Bolivia in 2019, circumventing all the rules.
What about democratic values?
Political culture in this part of the world lacks deeply rooted democratic values.
Dialogue is confused with weakness, respect for the law is synonymous with candor, and today tolerance is practically intolerable.
Unfortunately, we have a political culture that merges in the face of demagoguery and we are incessantly looking for messiahs to “save the people”. Even if they are authoritarian – as long as they are part of the “good guys”. Democracy cannot be possible while “the other” is in charge.
I do not intend to analyze, let alone refute, the studies on populism carried out by great social scientists such as Carlos de la Torre, Loris Zanatta, Margaret Canovan, María Antonia Muñoz or Ernesto Laclau.
But it is worth analyzing and criticizing not only the political actors, but also the citizens themselves, who, after all, are the ones who make democracy possible.
We often blame politicians for the country’s stagnation and we blame them for the shortcomings of democracy, but when do we citizens ever stand in front of the mirror to examine our own miseries, the very miseries that weaken democracy and institutions?
To what extent is the “government of the people”, the same government that neither understands nor cares about democracy, not a chimera?
How long will we respect democracy, while it suits us? Are we Latin Americans the biggest threat to our own democracy?
To change this, it is imperative to change the political culture of our countries. But who knows, nobody cares too much.
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