Except for Costa Rica where the creators of democracy decided to build a democratic edifice based upon term limits for the rulers; autonomous government at City Halls and transformation of the army into a gendarmerie the rest of Latin America is in institutional terms at the same development stage they were during the Spanish conquest. And while Uruguay and Chile have also figured out how to build democratic institutions the majority of the region is now enthralled with authoritarian rule. This recent trend springs from the fact that there is no one single Latin American leader that understand how profoundly technology has impacted political structures. Responses to todays challenges are thus missing and this adds heat to the existing discontent which is palpable in every country of the region. Take Chile for instance. By all measurements Chile is the sole developed country in the region. But in 2019 Chile’s youth erupted in a violent protest hardly seen in the region in many decades. Behind the protests was the realization that the Chilean presidency and top cabinet posts were reserved to the generation that re-founded democracy in the late 1980s. To be sure, the Chilean presidency since march 1990 and excepting Patricio Aylwin reminds us of a musical chairs exercise where only four people took part. Meanwhile new generations of Chileans had paid their dues excelling in public service; academia and the private sector without ever been able to reach the power pinnacle. Hernan Bữchi and Marco Enriquez Ominami come to mind.
Then there are the intractable economic elites. These are the rent extractors that suck the lifeblood of the economic system while freezing innovation . These are people who are part of private and public bureaucracies an act of gate keepers of innovation and change. They create regulations in both private and public domains. They enforce such regulations and in the process they gain power which is masterfully display to keep outsiders at bay . These outsiders are both national as well as international. If you are a foreigner in Brazil you will experience de-routings in your investment plans caused by the “jentinho” which is the way your competitors gat rid on any potential disruptor. These elites promote their families, prevent access to certain social spaces to ascending middle classes; evade taxes and engage in capital flight with gusto.
All this has facilitated Mr Castro’s cum Sao Paulo Forum narrative about the need to bring exploitation to a halt and to give power to the people. This narrative of course has failed miserably in almost all European countries and the US where thriving middle classes have enjoyed the largest period of political stability and economic growth since 1945. But in the Latin American space citizens tend to support the principle that anything that liberates them from the elites will be good for them and their children. When they realize the falsehood of such premise it is fatally late to correct course as the Anti historic left is entrenched in power and determine to keep it forever.
Fortunately for the hemisphere the signs that the porous, corporativist and rent seeking state created during the Spanish conquest is falling apart regionwide are astoundingly evident . Unfortunately it is at a time when the US is immersing itself into a period of isolation very similar to that prevailing at the dawn of the 20th century. It also is very unfortunate that South of the Rio Grande leaders with a 21st century mentality need to be search with Diogenes lantern.