Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More About Regime Classification

Hi Class,

Fátima Santana sent me a question about her paper, I think that my answer can be relevant for all of you.

Fátima's question:

I am very interested in Cuba and was hoping to compare their Socialist regime to that of another LA country that is more democratic. Since I believe that although cubans are stripped of many civil liberties their new govt has infiltrated many social programs, whereas in a democratic LA country they are given civil liberties but are stripped from their social programs, a major reason why many L Americans would rather have an authoritarian govt.

My answer:

Very interesting. There is a good chunk of empirical evidence supporting that claim. Check the polls by Latinobarómetro. Of course, the problem remains. Freedoms are also cherished by many Latino Americans.

Just do not fall in the trap of essentializing Latin American "identities" or "culture" with authoritarianism. That has been done many times and I think is very unfair and misleading, because the problem is that even in authoritarian regimes that were very effective in providing opportunities up until the end of the 1960s, the tensions brought by the confrontation between those claiming more civil rights and liberties and the regime were just too much. Look at the cases of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and even Uruguay. If people had been just willing to accept the trade-off, then the Tlaltelolco Massacre would had never happened.

Later, in the 1980s, many of us Mexicans were aware of how efficient the PRI was to provide a series of goods and services that no other government in Latin America was able to provide. Moreover, we had no experience of a "dirty war" at the scale that, lets say, Argentina or Chile lived. And yet, in spite of it, there were large sectors of the Mexican society willing to mobilize to democratize the country. Among many other reasons, because authoritarian regimes are good to spread some benefits, but they are also ridden with corruption, abuses, and irrationality that--at least theoretically--you can control through democratic institutions.

Moreover, I would say that in the case of Mexico the authoritarian regime of the 1960s was trapped by its own democratic discourse, because that is another feature of authoritarianism it is extremely fragile and can only justify itself by claiming to be a temporary, would I dare to say extra-ordinary solution, while the country gets ready to other forms of political regime. That is a constant from Mexico to Argentina, and from Chile to Cuba.

Also, be careful when dealing with the Cuban case. You must be aware of the role that US interventionism plays there. That, by itself plays an extremely big role in shaping choices and preferences of Cubans, because there is a real threat of military aggression by the US expressed in the very use of its soil to house the military base at Guantánamo, or the Platt Amendment, just to name the two most obvious features.

I think that is necessary to go on a case by case basis. Also, because not all authoritarianisms are the same: if you compare the Mexican PRI'ismo of the 1950s with that of the 1990s there are plenty of differences, and the same happens for most of the countries, perhaps with the exception of a personalist dictatorship like that of Stroessner in Paraguay. That is why the readings on regime classification are so important for us, because when we hypothesize about how specific forms of government shape choices and preferences is important to be aware of the differences between regimes. Otherwise you come up with these broad and almost meaningless generalizations about authoritarianism or democracy and the so-called "political culture" of the countries.

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