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The State of Democracy in Latin America and the World

After 40 years of uneven experience, democracy is facing acute challenges in Latin America. The region’s undeniable success in establishing credible electoral processes and in advancing human development levels has not been replicated in other crucial aspects of the democratic project, such as the rule of law, the workings of representative institutions, and the emergence of peaceful and cohesive societies. Very high levels of socio-economic inequality, criminal violence and corruption have enabled the emergence of highly polarized political systems, in which strident versions of authoritarian populism gain traction, often with high levels of popular support. Over the past two decades, two of the region’s countries–Venezuela and Nicaragua—have completed the transition from being representative democracies to fully-fledged dictatorships, while several others are afflicted by serious problems related to the quality of their democracies. The COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the region with remarkable harshness, rendered evident the flaws, but also some of the successes, accrued by Latin America’s democratic systems over the past four decades. What lessons can Latin America draw about how to face its political challenges and strengthen its democratic institutions as it hopefully moves into a post-COVID-19 period?