06 July 2010

Article: Democracy Undermined: Constitutional Subterfuge in Latin America

Forrest D. Colburn and Alberto Trejos are the authors of the article "Democracy Undermined: Constitutional Subterfuge in Latin America", published in the latest issue of the quarterly US magazine "Dissent" (57 [3], summer 2010: pp. 11-5):


Abstract: "Although democracy is being questioned and even battered throughout Latin America, what is happening in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia is qualitatively different. It is more than a 'ratcheting up' of the assault on democracy; it is a deliberate, well-designed project to deconstruct democracy and substitute something else in its place, poorly defined as that may be. What is new here – and completely unanticipated by the legions of academics who wrote in the 1980s and 1990s about the 'transition' to democracy – is the use of democracy to dismantle democracy. These projects pose a political and moral dilemma: how do you oppose political change that has been approved by a majority, sanctified by elections? Especially in poor countries with marked income and wealth disparities, which frequently overlap with race, how do you in good faith oppose the political projects of those who not only speak in the name of the oppressed, but who have the electoral support of the oppressed?"

Excerpt: "Early in the morning of June 28, 2009, the president of Honduras, Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya, was rousted out of his bed by soldiers and sent out of the country in his pajamas. It was an old-fashioned coup d'état, evoking, seemingly, a bygone era. The coup d'état seemed out of place because democracy has taken hold everywhere in Latin America except Cuba. In principle, now, elections are the only sanctioned route to the presidency; and, in principle again, presidents leave office after completing their term – only then, but definitely then. What was novel, in fact, about the ouster of Zelaya was the fear that prompted it – what can be called 'constitutional subterfuge.' The military in Honduras acted in a clumsy way to avert a very real threat to democracy – Zelaya's move to call an unprecedented special election to remove a term limit on the presidency – in that country and elsewhere in the region."

Unfortunately, I can't access the full text of this article.

Forrest D. Colburn is a Professor in the Department of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College, City University of New York.

Alberto Trejos is Professor of Economics at INCAE Business School, Costa Rica, where he previously served as Minister of Foreign Trade.

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