Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Democratic ambiguity

At first sight the following stories seem unrelated: the arrest of 8 policemen in Rio the other week for murdering 30 people, the Mexican Congress’s decision to strip Mexico City’s mayor from immunity, the sacking of the Ecuadorian Supreme Court by the president and Congress and Chile’s deadline to file charge on past human rights abuses.

But dig deeper and it appears that there are greater forces at work. Impunity, which dominated the past, is going out the window; the rule of law is increasingly making itself felt. That’s quite a substantial change from before, when off-duty policemen murdered without fear of being caught or the crimes of the Pinochet era were hushed up.

But before we get too exited about the virtues brought about since democracy’s return to the region, the Ecuadorian and Mexican cases may well be of concern. Actions in both countries have disguised prevailing political motivations, using the force of law as a justification for their actions. Ecuador’s Supreme Court was appointed late last year by the same president who has now dismissed them, with one of the main aims being to rescind prosecution charges against a former president. Meanwhile Mexico City’s mayor is reportedly among the most scrupulous and honest politicians in that country and therefore a threat in next year’s presidential elections to the ruling centre-right PAN government and former dominant party, the PRI.

What this shows is that the debate about democratic consolidation in Latin America is more subtle than they first appear. But then again, isn’t that ambiguousness central to understanding democracy? If it wasn’t then the subject wouldn’t be half as interesting to study!

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