Latin America
Nicolás Saldías: “The Expansion of Authoritarianism in Latin America”

Nicolás Saldías analyzes the political situation in Latin America regarding the expansion of authoritarianism throughout the region.
Unasur Summit in Brasilia © EFE

Unasur Summit in Brasilia.


Nicolás Saldías, Senior Analyst at the “Economist Intelligence Unit” (EIU) and Senior Fellow at “CESCOS”, explained a current phenomenon which is affecting a number of Latin American countries. In some dark periods of the last century the region was influenced by the armed forces in politics; this way of coming to power was through military coups. This reality, which for a time was normalized in much of Latin America, started to change considerably once political actors, in line with the will of civil society, decided to put pressure on the prevailing power structure to put an end to dictatorial regimes, finally succeeding in installing a democratic system. So, why is there a regression to authoritarian regimes in Latina America?

Trust in Institutions

One of the most important arguments highlighted by Saldías regarding why authoritarian tendencies are beginning to emerge in Latin American governments is associated with the lack of confidence that the people have in democratic political institutions. Since the basis for a democratic regime was set up in each country, governments have made promises on many occasions about socio-economic challenges that would enable people to improve their quality of life. Nevertheless, the reality was quietly different from what was projected and these unfulfilled promises caused widespread social discontent.

On the one hand, Saldías argues that this discontent is due to weak economic growth, coupled with high levels of poverty that can be perceived in most of the Latin American countries. On the other hand, high crime rates are also a key factor in understanding why societies are dissatisfied with government actions. It is important to know that Latin America is one of the regions with the highest number of crimes per year in the world.

How to Deal with the Rise of Authoritarianism in the Region?

Saldías explained: “In order for the democracies in the region to have a prosperous future people need to have confidence in these institutions”. The analyst emphasizes the need to deal with social exclusion, discrimination, and inequality, among other characteristics of current society. Governments should implement strategies to promote economic growth so that the average standard of living rises and the opportunity for social mobility can be provided.

If governments want to restructure confidence in democratic institutions, they have to promote more cooperation among states in the region. It is necessary to strengthen ties between Latin American countries and take a comprehensive approach, especially in the fight against transnational crimes, as these constitute a real obstacle to sustaining transparent governments and stable democracies. Organized crime recognizes no borders and its only goal is to make money through illegal methods.

The Future in Latin America

Saldías emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the justice institutions need to be strengthened. In the case of Argentina for example, the ex-president and actual vice president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has been recently convicted of corruption. It is hard work to be done creating trust in institutions because it requires time and political consensus to ensure fundamental reforms to succeed.  

With the assumption of Javier Milei on December 10th, Argentina needs structural reforms to overcome the current political, social and economic crisis. A concept that has been the subject of numerous discussions throughout Argentina's history has been the term "populism", used by many political actors to describe the governments whose popular support lies in the construction of a narrative, with the aim of evading real problems and solutions. Today, populism is still in force and may become a factor with decisive consequences for the democratic regime's functioning.

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In the last few years, a series of socio-political facts started a process of democratic backsliding in several Latin American countries. Nicolás Saldías, Senior Analyst of the EIU and Senior Fellow of CESCOS, presents the effects of these transformations considering the case of the presidency of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador. The future of Argentina will be determined by the next President of the country.