South America

The spread of democracy in Latin America in the past quarter-century was so thorough, it’s easy to take the triumph for granted. It’s easy to lose sight of just how anomalous it is for the bulk of Latin America to be governed by democratic rule, given the region’s authoritarian tradition and trends in other developing parts of the world. An ambitious report released last week by the UNDP sounds the alarm against complacency. Latin America’s de-mocracies are so fragile because their failure to deliver on their initial promise has discredited them. The UNDP surveyed thousands of people in 18 democratic Latin American countries and found that a solid majority would prefer an authoritarian system if it produced economic benefits.

Clearly, this endorsement of the Pinochet model shows that most Latin Americans do not feel as if they have a stake in their democracy. It is little wonder, really, given the high levels of poverty and social inequality in the region.

Going to the polls every so often to vote is nice enough, but meaningful democracy is about more than elections and market-opening economic reforms — the twin obsessions of US policy makers and financial bodies. To complete democratisation in much of Latin America, now requires a bold set of reforms aimed at bolstering the rule of law. The UN report smartly addresses these issues. — The New York Times