Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thoughts on democratators

Maybe a year or so ago I spent some time complaining about the loose use of the terms “left” and “leftist,” especially in the media but also in academia. Thankfully, that has changed a bit over time, as the differences between all the supposedly leftist presidents has become clear, so I tend to see less of the lumping together. The focus now is on Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia (interestingly, Nicaragua never seems to rate).

Let me take Daniel Drezner’s recent article in Newsweek, however, as an example of some analytical issues that still need resolution. He notes correctly that both Rafael Correa and Evo Morales are trying to bypass the elected opposition, though of course we’ll have to see what happens with the Bolivian recall vote (which he does not mention).

He, like many others, now uses the catchy term “democratator.” The origin of this term is, I think, Guillermo O’Donnell’s “democradura,” by which he intended to mean “hard democracy” but can also be seen as a combination of “democracia” and “dictadura.” The essential argument is that elections occur, but executive power is highly centralized, perhaps even in a single individual, and opposition is suppressed.

So far, so good, but the devil is in the details. The article is about authoritarian governments, but he compares Pakistan, China and Egypt, where free and fair elections have not taken place, to Latin America, where they have. No matter what you think of Correa, he is not Musharraf. Nor is Chávez the same as Hosni Mubarak.

Then, after citing Chávez as a “democratator,” he then also uses him as an example of the potential democratic future of the world. The money quote is “the Venezuelan people rebuffed their democratator's wishes.” But if they rebuffed him, and he accepted it, and everything goes on, is he in fact a “democratator”?

As readers of this blog know, I have all sorts of concerns about the abuse of executive power in Latin America, though at the moment I think we should be more concerned about Bolivia and Ecuador than Venezuela. It doesn’t do us any good, though, to toss around terms that tend mostly to lump together countries and/or leaders of which we are suspicious.


Roberto 1:57 PM  

As a resident of Ecuador I am very concerned about our current president. I ran across your blog today and will take some time to read some of your post and I am sure that I will have a comment or two.

My biggest concern at the moment is that Correa can not tolerate opposition. This scares me. Even God allows competition. The idea of free will, in my opinion is the hallmark of liberty. Why are we so eager to give it up?

Bosque 10:22 PM  

Shame. People need to tolerate a certain amount of opposition to grow. How else will one need to know where there may be some inefficiency or bad proposal than to have an opposing force or person to let you know?

Its interesting. In the US, it is the same.

I remember telling a Major in the PD that he needed to do something about his second in command because I already heard that others were planning to go to the news about himt. Its a shame but the Major didn't listen. The result? The entire department, including the Police Commissioner, had to answer for something negative in the news media which tarnished the entire department. Why? Because the major did not listen to the warning.

People should listen to and not just hear what is being said.

Anonymous,  3:43 PM  

I guess this is what happens when editors in the popular press do not understand that IR and Comparative are quite separate fields. And when scholars just can't resist the temptation to write for the popular press, even if it is on themes well beyond the topic areas that give them their credibility to the popular press.

No offense intended to Prof. Drezner, but he is no more qualified to compare authoritarian and semi-democratic regimes across regions of the world than I am to comment publicly about international regulatory regimes or international sanctions. (And so I don't.)

And I will admit that I had never heard or seen "democratator" before and I very much wish I still had not. What a stupid label. Sounds like it should be a popular potato product to me.

Greg Weeks 7:15 AM  

Funny you mention the potato angle--after I wrote the post, I kept thinking the same thing. The Democratator could be a hit kids' toy.

Anonymous,  5:24 PM  

It seems to me that the more frequent - and equally false - comparison is of Chavez to Putin. Luckily their two respective countries just had electoral events on consecutive days with very different outcomes, which makes it a lot easier to clarify the differences for people.

Mikeosaurus 3:00 AM  

I had an interesting conversation about Chavez being a dictator of sorts and losing his attractiveness as a real leader. I tried to take it with the usual grain of salt, but I can't help but point out to anyone trying to force this argument that there are referendums on the constitution, the basic foundation of the country. To me, there is nothing more democratic. I have an honest faith in the power of deliberative democracy, democracy as direct as possible. For me the idea of public debate over constitutional issues and the ability to rid the country of its leader through a referendum is the closest you can get.

It also doesn't hurt that the idea of Bolivarian Circles has become a blossoming idea in Venezuela. These community councils are what democracy should be. The hard part, at least from my perspective, is ridding the country of the distortions to the political process that capitalism and a capitalist-supporting middle class and elite create. There was an interesting post on Oilwars about the fact that the gov't in Venezuela is still catering to the wealthy through their dollar exchange rate system and the central bank.

But what I think is perhaps the most sensitive point in the debate herein is capitalism itself. There needs to be a centralization of power and capital for proper distribution, otherwise a revolution will not get off the ground. Even Marx called for a dictatorship of sorts (though it was the whole of the proletariat), so while I would not place power in one single figurehead and his policy, I believe that strong measures have to be taken to stabilize a system that is reversing 500 years of an imposed economic system based on ethnic stratification.

Worldwide, I think that people are so afraid of what they might have to give up initially to move past capitalism, that they would rather keep going through the ringer, so to speak. In that respect, I think that Banco del Sur, ALBA (when it gets its ass into gear), and a united Latin American currency would make things a lot less scary, at least for the people in the Latin American world.

Mikeosaurus 3:03 AM  

Oh yeah, and Bosqué, thanks for reading our blog

But who are you?

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