Latin America reset? 10 elections in 13 months

map-latin-america

Credit: SUNY Levin Institute

From October 2013 to December 2014, there are ten national elections occurring in Latin America, SUNY’s Levin Institute reports.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Uruguay are having presidential and/or legislative elections. In most of these countries, democracy has taken root. In general, analysts do not fear that the elections will result in violence or a weakening of democratic institutions. Honduras though is the exception on that front.

There are international, regional as well as national factors at play that will determine the outcomes of these elections. Some of the international and regional factors include weakened commodities markets, less access to capital, and the inclusion of expat populations in elections. On a national level, security and economic issues will play an important role in choosing a leader that will grow the economy and provide for personal security, both of which are lacking in many of these countries.

If Xiomara Castro wins as well as Sánchez Cerén from FMLN in El Salvador, then politics in Central America may shift toward the ALBA Alliance in Latin America, says Miriam Kornblith, director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Program at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Castro is likely to join ALBA if she wins the presidency, while it is unclear if FMLN will join as well, its politics are certainly left-leaning. The 2014 FMLN presidential candidate, Sánchez Cerén, is also much further left-leaning the current FMLN leader, Mauricio Funes, who is considered a moderate.  ALBA’s influence though may be waning due to Chavez’s death, so analysts will see if Chavez’s legacy continues or if this regional body loses steam.

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Is Brazil a new champion of democracy promotion?

map of Brazil and Brazilian flagLatin America’s largest nation has quietly turned into democracy’s “defender-in-chief,” in sharp contrast to emerging democracies in other regions, such as Turkey, South Africa or India—none of which regard democracy promotion beyond their borders as a priority, Oliver Stuenkel writes for Americas Quarterly.

Brazil’s approach to regional leadership differs from that of the U.S. in a number of ways. The phrases “democracy promotion” or “defense of democracy”—favorites of U.S. policymakers—are rarely used in Brasília. Nor does Brazil encourage the kind of activism practiced by U.S. or European NGOs, ranging from political party development, support for independent media and journalists, capacity building for state institutions, and training for judges, civic leaders and legislators.

Further, neither Brazilian civil society nor government has developed the capacity to deploy civilian democracy aid workers around the world, as is the case with European and U.S. NGOs.

Rather, Brazil is, by nature, suspicious of any pursuit of ideological convergence among states. Brazil has no mission civilizatrice or interest in expanding its own ideological agenda around the world, and it is unlikely to elevate its own success into a basis for foreign policy.

Brazil’s approach represents a distinct alternative to the normative approach of Western democracy promotion, which reflects the urge to recreate liberal democracies. Brazil prefers to take preventive action through normative or multilateral means—for example through treaty clauses punishing countries that do not uphold democratic standards, or through institutionalized collective action.

No cause for collision

The different approaches taken by the U.S. and Brazil in the realm of democracy promotion shouldn’t be a cause for collision. Rather, a more nuanced discussion is required about when and how democracy promotion is legitimate, and how it should take place. Given the complexity of the subject, it is natural that Brazil and the U.S. will regularly disagree about how to best defend democracy— even if they share the same general goal. During a political crisis, when decisions must be made quickly and there is often little room for coordinating policies, such disagreements can be sharp.

Still, the U.S. and Brazil— the Western Hemisphere’s two largest players—should consider establishing better channels of cooperation to make sure that clashes over policy toward Venezuela, Honduras or Paraguay can be dealt with collaboratively behind the scenes to create greater stability and consensus on these issues throughout the region.

Brazil rarely justifies its democracy related activities in the context of a larger liberal world view, as do U.S. policymakers. It remains suspicious of the at-times sweeping Wilsonian liberal rhetoric used by U.S. democracy promoters. For this reason, Brazil has not embraced such U.S. ideas or policies to create blocs of democratically elected governments and it eschews terms such as “democracy promotion.”

Fostering collaboration between Brazil and the U.S. could be done more easily by focusing on more technical terms—such as “good governance” or “transparent government”—rather than the ideology-laden liberal “democracy promotion.” At the same time, Washington policy makers must recognize that the Brazilian government will be reluctant to engage in any official pro-democracy alliance with the United States.

Brazil considers its regional credibility to work in areas of democracy to be extremely important, and a close alliance with the U.S. on the U.S.’s terms would undermine that. Maintaining legitimacy and capacity to act is particularly central to Brazil today as its neighbors face rising challenges to democratic stability and norms. Many of the reasons for these challenges stem from the realities Brazil faces at home, such as high inequality and poverty.

Finally, as a growing number of leaders look to China as an economic and political model, Brazil provides an important counter-example: a country where political freedom is not an obstacle to economic growth. Brazil’s emergence as one of the developing world’s most successful democracies may thus do more to enhance democratic ideals than any openly ideological push or activist policy could ever hope to achieve.

Oliver Stuenkel is assistant professor of international relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo.

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Opportunities and Responsibilities for Transatlantic Powers in MENA after the Arab Revolutions

Promoting successful transitions to democracy should be at the center of transatlantic strategy in the Middle East following the “Arab Revolutions,” and Egypt, the most important Arab country, should be the focus of this effort, analyst Amy Hawthorne writes in an analysis for the German Marshall Fund. Egypt cannot become a stable, moderating force in the region and a strong partner for the United States or Europe if it cannot democratize.

Democratization will be extremely difficult, and promoting democracy will be a long and frustrating task for outsiders. But the alternative — a failing Egypt left on its own — is worse for U.S. and European interests.

Amy Hawthorne is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East with extensive policy, analytical, and practical experience on Arab political reform and democracy promotion.

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So much for ‘modesty’: U.S. plans to build Libyan military

Ali-Zeidan_2368770bThe Obama administration may have adopted plans for a more “modest” Middle East policy, with National Security Adviser Susan Rice stating that Washington “can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” notes Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But it appears that the Pentagon didn’t get the memo.

Nation-building may be out of fashion, but the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) is preparing to help Libya rebuild its entire security sector, he writes for Foreign Affairs.

The plan seems reasonable on paper, says Wehrey, whose Carnegie publications include The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya and Building Libya’s Security Sector.

“Trained at overseas bases outside Libya, the new force will allow the government to project its own authority, protect elected officials and institutions from the militias operating within the country, and compel the militias to demobilize and disarm,” he says.  “Washington sees the effort as a crucial step in Libya’s democratic transition and as a way to halt extremism and prevent the country’s lawlessness from spilling over its borders.”

The apparently accelerating deterioration of security in Libya was underscored by the recent abduction of the country’s prime minister Ali Zeidan (above).

“After the [2011] revolution, the Libyan authorities integrated brigades as a whole and these brigades basically retained their structures. So the men don’t obey the state, they obey their leaders,” said Marine Casalis, FRANCE 24’s Libya correspondent. “You may have legal militias, but even these militias may not respect the legitimacy of the state and the government.”LBYA0001

Failed state

“It’s a failed state,” a high-ranking EU diplomat says of Libya. “It’s not functioning.

The Libyan government “lacks even 100 armed men who would lay their lives on the line to defend the abstract concept of the state. Conversely, the militias can rely on thousands,” according to Cambridge University’s Jason Pack, the editor of “The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future,” and Mohamed Eljarh, who writes on Libya for Foreign Policy’s “Transitions” blog.

The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy.

“But the [new] force’s composition, the details of its training, the extent to which Libyan civilians will oversee it, and its ability to deal with the range of threats that the country faces are all unclear,” Wehrey asserts:

Both the Libyan government and outside supporters must recognize that Libya’s security issues are fundamentally political problems. Better training and equipment will not automatically confer legitimacy on the new army, compel militias to surrender their arms, or entice Libyans to join up. That legitimacy will be obtained through a broad political reconciliation under the auspices of the recently announced National Dialogue, a functioning parliament, a constitution, and an equitable judicial system — and by a government that is able to deliver services across the country

“If the United States doesn’t want to leave the country worse off, it should think very carefully about that force’s composition, mission, and oversight before the program begins,” he asserts. “It must also heed those who argue that the mission should be accompanied by broader assistance designed to help Libya work through the economic and political challenges that underlie its insecurity.”

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