Populism vs. Democracy: The Battle of Ideas in Latin America

Armando Chaguaceda in Diario de Cuba:

Battle of Ideas

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2018 will be a year full of challenges for the world and, in particular, for Latin America. The Odebrecht scandal and the Panama Papers, deaths at the hands of organized crime and state violence, the (poorly) veiled inequality entailed by rampant consumerism, and elections that point to change, but with populist risks, are common news stories in several countries of the region.

A series of developments are likely in the region. The trend towards autocracy, on the rise globally, is likely to surge in the area. And Maduro and Evo, disciples of Castro, will probably make advances that entail the suppression of rights and institutions, despite local resistance and international condemnations. As a mirror, the region’s right wing is likely to resort to fraud and repression to prevent, simultaneously, the electoral rise of native democratizers and Bolivarian agents. And Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping will likely turn our seas, trade agreements and cyberspace into a zone of struggle serving and hinging on their geopolitical agendas.

Against such a backdrop, defending real democracy (liberal, republican, social) and Human Rights (all and for all) is the only objective conceivable for intellectuals and their agendas, forged over two centuries in Latin America. This means being clear on the fact that the current challenges faced by precarious democracies, with enormous shortcomings in every facet of collective coexistence, may soon be exacerbated by even greater ones, in the form of old and new tyrannies, for which we must be prepared, even as we wage current battles.

Columnists at publications like Mexico’s Proceso, Colombia’s Semana, and Argentina’s Página 12 (polar opposites of those behind Granma); and human rights activists who eschew the fascist tendencies of Tarek William Saab; and progressive academics who dare to defy the exclusive ideology endorsed as critical thinking by current CLACSO leaders, are bound to boldly uphold the norms, modes and institutions that truly sustain pluralism and diversity.

We shall repudiate the siren songs of the Chinese regime, so pathetic in its power that it trembles at a few dissenting voices.

And stand indignant if Viktor Orban closes a university in Budapest, or if Miguel Díaz-Canel calls for the abolition of every sign of freethinking in Havana.

And mourn any deaths caused by Temer or Maduro.

Our common sense will lead us to wonder how an educated people like Cuba’s has elected two brothers as president of the nation for six decades.

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