“The only thing one can do in America is emigrate”.

Good governance is what will most improve lives in Latin American. For this the citizenry needs to learn to evaluate the stewardship of their leaders more responsibly. Good governance is about promoting socioeconomic systems where most citizens are able to provide adequately for their own needs. Only then will Bolívar’s dictum prove untrue that, the only thing one can do in America is emigrate.
José Azel.
Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, fought nearly 500 battles to gain independence from the Spanish Crown for present-day Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama. Yet, near the end of his life he despaired at the situation in Latin America. In 1830, he wrote to General Juan José Flores:
“Use the past to predict the future. As you know, I have ruled for twenty years, and from these I have derived only a few sure conclusions: 1) America is ungovernable, for us; 2) He who serves a revolution ploughs the sea; 3) The only thing one can do in America is emigrate; 4) This country will fall inevitably into the hands of unrestrained multitudes and then into the hands of tyrants so insignificant they will be almost imperceptible, of all colors and races; 5) Devoured by every crime and extinguished by ferocity, the Europeans will not dignify us with their conquest; 6) If it were possible for any part of the world to revert to primitive chaos, it would be America in her last hour.”It has been nearly 200 years, but Bolívar’s harsh indictment seems as valid today as it was in his time.In search of good governance, Latin America has accumulated the world’s most tortuous constitutional history. According to a study by Jose Luis Cordeiro, 19 of the 21 Latin American nations have had at least five constitutions, eleven of the countries have written at least ten, and five countries have adopted twenty or more constitutions. The Dominican Republic leads the world’s count of constitutions with 32, followed by Venezuela with 26, Haiti with 24, and Ecuador with 20.
To be clear, these are not constitutional amendments, but far reaching rewritings to rework the structures of government. In contrast, Canada has had two constitutions and the United States one. In Latin America, each new constitution is promoted as necessary to “refound the nation.” Yet, good governance is not about constitutions, and several very successful societies such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Israel, do quite well without a formal constitution.
If by good governance we understand a leader’s ability to provide the citizenry safety and security, political freedoms and participation, rule of law, transparency, accountability, human rights, and sustainable economic opportunity then, for the most part, Latin America has yet to experience sustained good governance.
Latin America’s most famous mythical creature is not the chupacabras. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez put it, “The only mythical creature Latin America has ever produced is the military dictator…” In present day context, we have to include totalitarian Cuba, and the new authoritarianism of titular “democracies” like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, etc.
It is not, as Bolívar thought, that Latin America is ungovernable. Rather, the region’s problems flow from an appraisal of political stewardship mostly focused on a leader’s ability to deliver political goodies, not public goods. This is a politico-fiscal pathology where public support is created, not through exceptional public service, but through patronage. It is more politically rewarding to channel benefits to known interest groups than to politically amorphous groups.
The sociopolitical heritage from Spain and the post-colonial experience has engendered in Latin America an understanding of the role of government significantly different from the principles of limited government and inalienable rights of the U.S. experience. It is a perverse understanding that measures the quality of governance by the amount of social expenditures that government incurs.
Limited government does not come naturally to a Hispanic culture of statist political tendencies.
Latin America, seduced by the siren song of “social justice,” has trouble accepting the unequal results of the marketplace. This often results in constitutional plasticity and some form of messianic personalist leadership.
Good governance is what will most improve lives in Latin American. For this the citizenry needs to learn to evaluate the stewardship of their leaders more responsibly. Good governance is about promoting socioeconomic systems where most citizens are able to provide adequately for their own needs. Only then will Bolívar’s dictum prove untrue that, the only thing one can do in America is emigrate.
 
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