No region has democratized as quickly and irreversibly as the Americas after the Cold War. But now that progress hangs in the balance. Now democracies are fading, autocracies are consolidating and kleptocracies seem to be the order of the day.
However, democracy in the Americas is resilient, having overcome military coups, hyperinflation, and escalating criminal violence in the past. And it has a bright future if it knows how to adapt to meet the most basic needs of citizens.
Providing quality services to the people of the region should be at the center of President Biden’s agenda with the 27 participants from the Western Hemisphere at the upcoming Democracy Summit. Bringing such life back to the democratic consensus of Latin America and the Caribbean would help the US government and its hemispheric neighbors deal with mutual challenges such as crime, migration and energy security and send a message to the world. that democracy delivers.
Just last month, elections were stolen in Nicaragua and Venezuela and corrupted in Honduras, while Chile recorded high abstention rates in the first round, leaving one of the region’s most stable democracies to choose between two ideologically opposed candidates. Whether in Chile, Brazil, Colombia or Mexico, populism now risks replacing constitutional governance as the organizing principle of regional politics.
Inequality, corruption and insecurity have prevented many people from fully participating in representative government. Underinvestment in social services and the persistence of informal labor markets, where six in ten people in the region work, have left many paychecks alive, even as poverty declined in the early 2000s. Features have torn the fabric of the social contract ushered in by the region’s transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, exacerbated by scandals of elites stealing government coffers and hiding their money abroad.
Even before COVID-19, Latin America and the Caribbean faced a wave of social unrest due to economic stagnation and government dysfunction. Disinformation on social media has contributed to the polarization on issues related to public health, human rights and immigration. Satisfaction with democracy fell below 50% in 2018, the first time in almost 30 years.
When the pandemic struck, an area representing just 8% of the world’s population suffered around 30% of known deaths from COVID-19 globally. The burden of blockages and slow deployment of vaccines fell disproportionately on the most vulnerable. The most severe regional economic contraction followed, leaving an additional 26 million people unemployed and 22 million more below the poverty line in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020 alone.
No matter what perfect storm, 63% of Latin Americans still believe democracy is the best form of government. But to ensure that regional democracies rise to the occasion and produce better socio-economic outcomes, the Biden administration should focus on three main pillars.
First, President Biden’s Build Back Better World initiative should extend beyond transportation, climate and health to effectively deliver public services in education, personal finance, and health. nutrition the cornerstones of its programming in Latin America and the Caribbean. Rebuilding the region’s prosperity has as much to do with administering accessible social service systems, introducing fair tax regulations and bringing it to the table as it does with unveiling brilliant new infrastructure.
Second, the Biden administration should prioritize the Caribbean and Amazon basins as the primary recipients of aid to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. Adverse weather events have triggered a vicious cycle of economic ruin, hunger and displacement, including escalating migration to the United States. Negotiations are currently underway to recapitalize the Inter-American Development Bank, and the American International Development Finance Corporation is preparing to launch new infrastructure projects. Washington should tie the credit lines of these institutions to advances by governments in the region in renewable energy, reforestation and community resilience.
Third, the migration crisis is now a hemispheric phenomenon that requires shared responsibility and common strategies. Countries like Colombia have fulfilled their responsibilities admirably in legalizing the status of a million Venezuelans, but the growing xenophobia towards migrants in the region is politically and socially destabilizing. Washington should lead by example by expanding employment options for temporary migrants, while supporting regularization and integration programs for migrants elsewhere through multilateral lenders. A recent $ 800 million loan to Colombia is compelling proof of concept.
The Democracy Summit’s focus on human rights and the fight against corruption is a laudable start, but it is equally important to address the challenges faced by democracies in providing quality services. of life. Latin America and the Caribbean are ripe for this brand of American partnership, the success of which would be good news for the citizens of that hemisphere and small Democrats around the world.
Paul J. Angelo is Latin American Studies Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Nick Zimmerman is Senior Advisor at WestExec Advisors and former Director of the National Security Council for Brazil and Southern Cone Affairs.