The Travails of Development and Democratic Governance in Central America

July 19, 2011, 2:13 p.m.

The Travails of Development and Democratic Governance in Central America looks at the recent set back to governance in Central America and the major causes behind it.  The paper provides three issues as the major players in the deterioration of democracy and the inability of the state to provide needed services.

These pages will examine three sets of issues that remain crucial to Central America’s development and will continue to make the region prone to political crises and democratic reversals. The first issue is the weakness of the state and, more generally, of political power; the second is the region’s uncertain path towards integration with the world economy; and the third, and arguably most pressing, is crime and violence. All of them need to be dealt with in a consistent manner and with the help, in some cases, of external actors.

The three countries which are facing the biggest challenges are Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Levels of violence in these countries has sky rocketed with the current governments unable to handle the crisis.  One survey described in the paper stated that many people would consider an authoritarian take over and the dissolution of democratic institutions if it would mean safety and security.  This is a concerning development and a setback for the region. 
Guatemala is faced with a growing lawlessness syndrome. The weakness of the state, the pervasive violence, the widespread corruption, and the country’s strategic location for drug trafficking are creating a dangerous cocktail. The United States and the neighboring countries, which are certain to be affected by the anomie that seems to be engulfing Guatemala, would do well to pay attention and commit resources to help Guatemalans prevent the collapse of their own institutions.

It is essential that more opportunities are provided to youth through education and job opportunities, combined with a reduction in corruption and a strengthening of law enforcement.  Both of these public policy interventions will require large investments and continued commitment.
If democratic institutions are to be preserved in Central America, tax reform, civil service reform, police reform, judicial reform, party reform, amongst many, must be tackled with the same zeal as the creation of credible electoral authorities or the registration of voters.


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