The recent events that culminated with Donald Trump’s failed tinhorn self-coup last week have led many pundits to compare the United States to a “banana republic.”
Whether all those analogies are accurate or helpful is a subject of heated online debate, but one thing is certain: Latin America has a much different relationship with democracy than the U.S. does. To make a broad and somewhat lazy generalization, people in Latin America don’t tend to take democracy for granted quite like their U.S. counterparts do. Latin Americans understand that democracy is not inevitable, and that years of incremental gains can be rolled back in a fist-pumping blur by a determined autocrat.
But Latin America’s on-again off-again relationship with democracy could also offer some helpful insights to the United States, which is about to begin its own precarious trek back up the weedy embankment towards the path to democracy. It could be shakier footing than people realize; any serious missteps could send the country slipping and sliding further down the hill.
Luckily for Tio Sam, Latin America has already mapped this terrain.
“For the Biden administration to get guidance on how to navigate these tricky times, they might want to look south of the border to Latin America, which has seen it all before,” says Univision journalist Jorge Ramos in this week’s episode of Real America, Latin America’s Lessons for Democracy.
Many of the lessons fit into the category of cautionary tales. For example, when Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega was voted out of office in 1990, he vowed to “govern from below” with the help of party loyalists. For the next 16 years, Ortega worked as an outside powerbroker and rabble-rouser to undermine democratically elected presidents and paralyze the nation. Ortega eventually paved the way for his own return to the presidency in 2007, after which he quickly consolidated a new Sandinista dictatorship.
“The lesson learned from Nicaragua’s failed transition to democracy is this: To be successful, the new administration will need strong popular support to withstand the attacks from the fanatics of the old regime,” says Félix Maradiaga, Director of Nicaragua’s Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos (IEEPP). The ousted authoritarian, Maradiaga warned, will do everything in his power to keep the country violently polarized because reconciliation is fundamental to a functioning democracy.
Nicaragua isn’t the only warning about the continued threat that Trump and his family will play after the moving trucks haul their junk back to Florida.
“The Trump family is a political clan that will possibly want to stay in power after Donald Trump. Political power can become very addictive, as we saw here in Peru which is similarly divided over the role of the Fujimori clan,” said Peruvian journalist Maria Luisa Martinez. “The strategy of the Trump family could be the same as the Fujimoris: The father is viewed as the strongman who saves the country, and the daughter becomes a softer, friendlier version.”
Martinez ponders: “Will Ivanka Trump become the next Keiko Fujimori?”
You can watch the full show for similar insights, lessons, and warnings from Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Nicaragua and Peru. Here's the link: