The Travails of Development and Democratic Governance in Central America

Sept. 1, 2011, 8:12 p.m.

“The Travails of Development and Democratic Governance in Central America” by Kevin Casas-Zamora addresses the current lack of properly functioning state actors within Central America and the resulting sense of insecurity. The three main areas addressed in the paper are:  the weakness of political power, globalization, and crime and violence.  Costa Rica and Panama stand out from the other countries, especially from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  These three countries have started to revert back to leaders with authoritarian leanings and a diminished role of democracy in their countries, in part due to the desire for a strong political leader who will stem the rise of crime and violence.  Political disaffection is strong, especially among youth.  Existing political parties do not represent the population, which causes a lack of trust or belief that the population’s needs are addressed within the government.

The perception that state authorities are unable to protect the citizen’s most fundamental rights is visibly damaging the support for democratic institutions in Central America and is turning the region into a breeding ground for authoritarian attitudes. A recent study conducted by political scientist José Miguel Cruz, drawing upon data from the Latin America Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University, demonstrates that civic support for democracy as a political system is gravely affected by high perceptions of insecurity and by the opinions on the government’s success or failure in the fight against crime. An even more troubling finding is that Central Americans cite crime as the problem that could most easily move them to justify a military coup d’état. Fifty-three percent of the population of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras would be willing to endure a democratic breakdown, if such a move solved public insecurity problems, a reaction that no other social, political or economic challenge elicits.

Central America’s current political troubles suggest that democracy is doomed to live on the edge of collapse if the presumed instruments of self-government, i.e., a set of public institutions that ultimately respond to the people, are starved to death, deprive of muscle and brains, largely incapable of solving real problems for real people.

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