The Terrible Time of the Strongmen

Cientos de miles de manifestantes salen a las calles de Brasil para protestar en contra de la corrupción. (Twitter/Telenoticias)
Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Brazil to protest against corruption. (Twitter / Telenoticias)

Latin America’s streets are filled with people protesting angrily against their governments. The protests are against governments of the left (Venezuela – the worst of all, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua and Argentina); against those of the center (Peru and Mexico); and against those of the right (Guatemala and Honduras). Surely others will be added along the way.

Those who have taken to the streets in Latin America are essentially protesting for one, several or all of the following twelve reasons: corruption, inefficiency, insecurity against violent crime, the impunity of criminals, the subordination of the other republican branches of government – the legislative and the judicial – to the will of the executive, the blatant change in the rules to stay in power indefinitely, the violation of human rights, electoral tricks, control over the media, shortages, the abuse of rights previously granted to unions or indigenous peoples, and the irresponsible abuse of the delicate ecosystem.

The general perception is that the region is being governed terribly badly, which in part explains the longstanding relative backwardness

The phenomenon is very serious. The general perception is that the region is being governed terribly, which in part explains its longstanding relative backwardness. The social contract between the governors and the governed has been broken, and the latter refuse to give their consent to the former. The pitcher can only go to the well so many times before it breaks.

In the republican concept we are all equal, we are obliged to comply with the laws, we cannot write constitutions or dictate laws at the pleasure of an abusive clique, elections are organized as collective mechanisms to make decisions and not to legitimate corrupt mandarins.

Likewise, it is assumed that politicians and officials obtain their positions and move up and keep them based on their merits and not on their relationships. They are public servants who enter government to fulfill the mandate directed by the society that has elected them. They have been chose not to command, but to obey. This, at least, is the theory.

And the theory is not wrong. We Latin Americans have violated it until it has failed.

Bad businesspeople have violated it, in collusion with the rulers, sharing out profits and closing the path to economic actors who lack sponsors or who are unable to engage in bribery.

Union and syndicate leaders have made a mockery of it when they negotiate with power for privileges, knowing that they are making it almost impossible for young people to enter the labor market.

Certain religious leaders of all ranks have done great damage, as have verbose journalists and certain radical professors who condemn the quest for personal triumph, as if economic success in life – achievements through profits – were a crime or a sin.

The republican design works and we see it in the twenty most prosperous and free countries in the world

Of course the republican design is correct and it works. We see it in the twenty most prosperous and free countries in the world. Some are republics and others are parliamentary monarchies, but all accept the basic norms of the Rule of Law born from the enlightenment and perfection of liberal revolutions.

Among these successful nations, some governments are liberal and renounce the anti-clericalism of early times, while others are social democrats who stripped away the superstitions of Marxism, or Christian democrats devoid of religious fanaticism, or conservatives who abandoned an unpleasant taste for the iron fist or the disproportionate worship of order.

Sometimes coalitions form, at others the political terrain is adversarial, but they always proceed democratically in the exercise of power. They form a part of the same political family, presided over by tolerance, that arose from the American and French revolutions, although they are divided by an important factor, but one that is neither vital nor irreconcilable: the intensity and destination of the tax burden, which determines the size and responsibilities that each group assigns to the State.

Not included in this lineage are communists, fascists, and authoritarians of every stripe – militarists, ultranationalists, religious fanatics – because they do not believe in coexisting with and respecting differences, nor in the pluralism inherent in every society, nor in democratic changes in government, as evidenced by the endless trail of corpses they have left in their efforts to conserve power.

It is desirable that we Latin Americans learn once and for all a rather obvious lesson: the republican structure is very fragile and is only sustained over the long term if societies are capable of discriminating in favor of governments that accept and follow the rules that give meaning and form to this way of organizing coexistence. Govern well or everything will go up in smoke.

When they govern badly, first comes the widespread sense of collapse, and then come the strongmen, the military who command and control, the enlightened revolutionaries; they exert authority over our peoples, aggravating all the evils that they swore to fix. That is the terrible time of the strongmen.

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