Wednesday
April 16, 2014

30 years of Democracy

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Three won decades

If there were any doubts that democracy is always a work in progress, even after the 30 uninterrupted years marked today, they should be removed by the inadmissible challenges it now faces from the wave of police pay protests (and related looting) sweeping much of the country — a theme to which this space will doubtless be returning during the next few days, short of a miraculous breakthrough. But it is the aim of today’s editorial to look beyond current events and today’s celebrations to gauge the meaning of this unique anniversary in deeper perspective.
Today’s anniversary finds 1983 irreversibly consigned to the past, so self-destructive was the preceding military dictatorship (morally, financially and even militarily bankrupt after the “Dirty War” atrocities, unprecedented foreign debt and a lost war) but democracy’s future is an open book. For better or worse, Argentina seems to prefer the presidential variant of democracy over the parliamentary but has yet to define exactly what it understands as democracy —social equality or institutional consolidation, which has somehow become an either/or proposition. Many would blame an asymmetrical party system but, while definitely lopsided (with Peronist presidencies in 22 of the 30 years), no Mexican or Paraguayan records for one-party rule have been broken here. Nor is everything the fault of politicians — society’s indecision over the meaning of democracy has led to an excessive delegation of decision-making upstairs despite the tremendous advances of civil society since 1983 (ranging from human rights groups through diverse NGOs to the pickets). Argentine federalism also has far to go (as perhaps underlined by the current police crisis). Much to celebrate today but little cause for self-congratulation, given how much democracy has advanced in the world and this region in the last three decades (just two of the 10 South American republics were democratic in 1983).
On International Human Rights Day today, we can definitely speak of progress, including rights in their broader sense. If Raúl Alfonsín, the first president of this democratic period, said: “Democracy feeds, cures and educates,” the life expectancy, child mortality, school attendance and all related indicators show indisputable progress, despite the current upheavals and whatever United States President Barack Obama might say. Huge problems remain unresolved after 30 years, of course, but (to end on an optimistic note), the more aware one is of these shortfalls, the more one can feel that the best is yet to come.
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