Guy Farmer: Democracy declines in Latin America


While many of us are focused on President Biden's out-of-control border crisis, a threat to our national security, democracy is declining south of the U.S.-Mexico border as communists, socialists and armed guerrilla groups challenge pro-democracy leaders in Central and South America.
The Wall Street Journal's Latin America specialist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, wrote about threats to democracy in our hemisphere last week in a column titled "Electoral College Lessons for Latins." "Latin political instability is raging again," she wrote. "The latest real-time horror show is in Colombia, where violence has surged since the government's late April announcement of its intention to raise taxes on the middle class."
When I served in Colombia in the mid-1970s that beautiful country was recovering from decades of guerilla violence, but more than 40 years later the guerrillas are back with a vengeance. "Guerillas and pro-Venezuela thugs have used the popular backlash against tax reforms to block roads, vandalize property and battle with police," O'Grady reported. If that sounds familiar, think Seattle and Portland.
O'Grady said one reason for violent unrest is that Colombia chooses its leaders by direct popular vote and not by an American-style Electoral College system that guards against the tyranny of the majority. "Elections can be won by a candidate who ignores large parts of the country," she explained. "The resulting neglect fuels discontent."
That would be true in the U.S. if we abandoned the Electoral College because candidates would only need to campaign in a few populous states like California, Florida, New York and Texas. Ms. O'Grady revealed that a Canadian research firm, Frasier Institute, found that with a simple majority vote, "Joe Biden could have prevailed in 2020 by winning only 193 of 3,155 U.S. counties, plus the District of Columbia."
Back to Latin America, O'Grady wrote that in 2018 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and top contender Fernando Haddad "advanced to the runoff without having visited 12 of Brazil's 26 states." Conclusion: Go where the votes are, ignoring the rest of the country and leading to the decline of democracy.
Of course there are many other reasons why Latin American voters are leaning way to the left, including endemic corruption and economic inequality. That's certainly true in Peru, where I served in the 1980s and where Marxist candidate Pedro Castillo, a Fidel Castro clone, leads "establishment" candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is in prison after being convicted of corruption and human rights abuses. In recent weeks, however, Ms. Fujimori has closed the gap between herself and Castillo, and now trails the Marxist 41-44 in advance of the June 6 presidential election.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, where I served for seven years during my Foreign Service career, socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro, another Castro clone, last week seized the headquarters of the country's last remaining opposition newspaper, El Nacional. The Wall Street Journal reported that "national guardsmen clad in bulletproof vests and maroon berets raided the 162,000-square-foot property of El Nacional" in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Caracas, seizing its assets. Fortunately, the influential paper continues to publish online.
I have a personal connection to El Nacional because one of the local press chiefs I hired at the American Embassy in Caracas, a brilliant young female journalist, later became the paper's chief editor. If she's still alive, she probably lives in exile or under house arrest, a sad story of life in a socialist dictatorship.
I fear for the future of my Latin American friends, but hope they'll muddle through, as they usually manage to do.
Guy W. Farmer lived and worked in Latin America for more than 20 years during his diplomatic career.

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