Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The military and respect in Latin America

Via Tim’s El Salvador blog, a poll of Salvadorans reveals something that is widespread in Latin America, yet not much remarked upon. Despite a fairly recent history in most countries of some combination of military dictatorship, repression, and human rights abuses, the armed forces remain one of the most respected institutions. In El Salvador, it came in fourth behind the Catholic Church, the evangelical Church, and local government (alcaldías). Latinbarometer results show the same across the region.

There are a number of different possible (and probably intertwined) reasons. The most pessimistic would be that the military isn’t exactly popular, but other institutions are just worse. In El Salvador, this is plausible. The most optimistic would be that the military has been successful in re-establishing trust. In Chile, for example, the army has worked very hard to shed its image as a closed institution, set apart from society.

In addition, it may be that people blame individual soldiers rather than the institution itself for human rights abuses. As long as there is some measure of accountability (e.g. trials) for the worst offenders, then the armed forces as a whole are not viewed in a bad light.

Finally, the military may be viewed with favor largely because it is so well organized, especially compared to other state institutions. When there is a natural disaster, the army generally moves quickly, and responds more effectively than other parts of the government.

This would be a great research topic, but would require extensive polling.


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