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LatAm in Focus: How Healthy Is Democracy in Latin America?

A voter in Costa Rica. (AP)

A voter in Costa Rica. (AP)

January 17, 2019

“Latin Americans are not thrilled with democracy, but there’s very little evidence that…voters prefer any alternative.” We talked with Steven Levitsky, co-author of How Democracies Die, for our first #LatAmFocus episode of 2019. ¡Escúchale!
The history of the Latin American strongman is well documented. But what about authoritarian-leaning female leaders? There aren't as many, says Harvard's Steven Levitsky—though Keiko Fujimori and Rosario Murillo come to mind.

What is the state of democracy in Latin America at the start of 2019? The inauguration of a leader who’s openly not committed to democratic and constitutional norms—as is the case in the region’s largest country, Brazil—is worrisome, says Harvard University’s Steven Levitsky, co-author of the New York Times Bestseller How Democracies Die.

On the other hand, Levitsky says Latin America’s democracies are “muddling through,” which is encouraging in light of the United States and Europe withdrawing when it comes to democracy promotion in the region compared to 10 or 15 years ago. Moreover, as he tells AS/COA Online’s Holly K. Sonneland in this podcast interview, “The alternatives to liberal democracy are not faring any better.” Venezuela and Nicaragua are failing spectacularly, he says, while Ecuador has been largely re-democratized. “Latin Americans are not thrilled with democracy,” says Levitsky. “But there’s very little evidence that…voters prefer any alternative.”

“The alternatives to liberal democracy are not faring any better than democracy.”

How Democracies Die draws lessons from a host of Latin American strongmen, such as Hugo Chávez, Getúlio Vargas, and Augusto Pinochet. So why are there no women on the list? Mostly because sexism kept women out of power for so long, says Levitsky. That doesn’t mean women aren’t just as capable of harboring authoritarian tendencies, he says, citing the example of Keiko Fujimori in Peru. And while they might not be heads of state, Vice President Rosario Murillo of Nicaragua and First Lady Cilia Flores in Venezuela also fit the authoritarian profile.



This episode was produced by Luisa Leme. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.