Saving Democracy in Latin America

Under the leadership of Venezuela’s president and former failed military coupster Hugo Chávez, self-declared Marxist, a number of Latin American countries in the ALBA alliance are moving towards what they call more “popular democracy.” Fidel Castro calls it communism, though.

The call for this “popular democracy” has reached also Honduras, where former president Manuel Zelaya argued that the people have a right to decide their own destiny, and therefore nobody should object when he was to hold a referendum that would lead to the constitution of the republic being thrown out. Never mind that the poll was fixed, and never mind that it had not been decided in democratic order. If The People does something, it has to be approved. And now the new president, Porfirio Lobo, is using the same arguments, the same words, while trying a different strategy that at the end of his term will lead to the same result: The constitution being thrown out so that he can be re-elected.

While neither of the two gentlemen say openly that their re-election is the one and only purpose of the maneuvers, one can deduce as much, since no other purpose would explain their acts.

I’m the first to admit that Honduras needs some reforms to decrease corruption and increase the rule of law and democracy. What these presidents are doing is, however, the polar opposite – while managing to convince part of the population that they are doing it to help them. It’s the classical trick of popular tyranny, practiced for thousands of years.

Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center.

Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center. Chávez, Zelaya, and the boys want to go left and make the parliament weaker. Experience shows more democracy is found to the right, with a stronger parliament. Click for full size.

Honduras – as most of Latin America – has a Presidential Republic form of government today (center in the illustration). Chávez’s “Socialism in the 21st Century” changes the constitutions to undermine the democratic institutions and introduce organizations that are outside institutional control (left in the image). Adolf Hitler did precisely the same thing to undermine the democratic checks and balances. They claim that it is done to give more popular democracy, but it is done at the expense of rule of law. The only one who really benefits is the president – now turned dictator.

A change that can be made totally legally in Honduras, without running afoul of the articles “cut in stone”, is to go to the right instead. A parliamentary democracy increases the rule of law and decreases corruption, there is empirical data to support that. It also provides a better protection against coups such as the one attempted by Zelaya.

The democracy can thus be strengthened by Congress, today, without changing the fundamental form of government. It will still be a Republic, the President will still be separate from Congress and elected directly by the people for a single four-year term. The only change is that his cabinet must be approved by Congress, and that Congress can fire them if they disapprove of their work. Also, the decisions must be taken by the Cabinet in a quorum, although formally it is the President as the head of the executive who will sign off on them.

Democracy in Latin America is under attack. With this little graph I hope that I have illustrated what can done to protect and improve democracy on the continent instead.

An earlier post on a similar topic: http://blog.erlingsson.com/?p=3319

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