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Latin American Crack-Up?

- Abstract

Latin American Crack-Up? Mark Falcoff Roughly two decades have passed since most of Latin America turned away from authoritarian regimes, typically dominated by military institutions, and turned toward electoral democracy. The shift was drastic and in many ways historically unprecedented. With the notable exception of Castro’s Cuba, every country in the region has now been governed by civilians chosen through universal suffrage.

Yet this long season of democratic renewal has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Latin American citizens. In a recent region-wide survey, nearly 55 percent responded that they would support a return to dictatorship if doing so would solve their personal economic problems. This finding is all the more striking when one takes into account the parlous economic record of most military governments in the world over the past half-century.

At the same time, there has been a strong reaction against market-based economic reforms, or “neo-liberalism” as its critics like to call it. Along with nostalgia for strongmen decked out in epaulettes and brandishing swords, the dream of a nationalist-corporatist state—one that owns and controls much of the “commanding heights” of the economy—has likewise begun to reappear. As a corollary, much resentment is expressed against the United States, free trade, and foreign investment—the three being regarded as one and the same thing. Indeed, Washington’s current project for a hemispheric free-trade area is treated in many quarters not as an opportunity to create new markets and new employment opportunities but as a dark plot to seduce and exploit the innocent Latins. Lately, there has been much talk (particularly in Argentina) of creating regional or sub-regional blocs as a solution to Latin American economic and social problems—as if clever diplomatic strategies or new political alignments could somehow permit whole countries to leapfrog over the stark facts of poverty, illiteracy, corruption, and plain mismanagement

About the Author

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.