Democracy’s Roots Have Grown Strong in Latin America

Democracy’s Roots Have Grown Strong in Latin America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Old-fashioned political graffiti still shouts calls for social change on the walls of Latin American cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Young idealists still preach the virtues of revolution, and an occasional taxi driver can startle you with an excited display of admiration for Colombia's Marxist rebel leader Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda. Observing this scattered evidence of wishes to overthrow the system, one could easily be fooled into thinking democracy in Latin America is on shaky ground. A closer look, however, points to strong evidence that democracy is throwing deep roots in Latin soil.

A few decades ago, only Colombia and Venezuela held popular elections. The rest of the continent was ruled by dictators, while armed leftist revolutionaries roamed the jungles, battling to emulate Fidel Castro's successful capture of power in Cuba. Today, the only Latin American country where the people do not elect their president is Cuba. By most accounts, voters are surprisingly happy with the leaders they have chosen. Even more astonishing, Castro has lost the spellbinding aura that kept much of the continent in his thrall.

Not long ago, labor leaders, intellectuals and students spent hours in discussions about what was the best system to bring their countries out of poverty. Back then Fidel served as the embodiment of the dream of redemption: a Moses figure, trudging across harsh terrain as he led the masses to their promised land. Adoration for the Cuban leader stemmed from the belief held by millions of people that communism could indeed bring an end to poverty, and that democracy was little more than a thin veneer used by the rich to keep their power and their wealth.

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