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Latin American countries show a great diversity in among their democracies. While some have stable democracies compared to the ones in Europe, some have so weak institutionalized party systems that they have a minute chance of any kind of reforms, at least for now while others occupy the central place between these two extremes. In order to increase the level of party system institutionalization, I will look at a set of some reforms in these countries.    The main aim of these reforms will to increase the party level values, improve legitimacy of political parties and enhance stability by politicians. These will include:  the political party market place, party & campaign finance, candidate selection and voting reforms.

Political party market place. In many Latin American countries, the institutionalized of political parties is undermined by a widespread defection of politicians from one party to another, constant formation and also extinction of political parties, failure of parliamentarians to follow party rules and a lack of concern by politicians for their party’s popularity among the public. These deficiencies results to low barriers for new political parties   (14). A number of proposals have been highlighted to reform the party system institutionalization in Latin America, they include:  

A reform to establish a barrier of entry to new political parties has been suggested. This is mainly aimed at making the formation of new parties a non-trivial matter, provide incentives to politicians to follow party rules and remain within the same party. But this does not mean that the barriers will be too high to totally bar politicians moving to another desirable party. An example of such a country that prohibits easy party switches while at the same time has reasonable entry for new political parties that show popular support among the electorate. The rule is that the new political party is to have a relatively small number of registered members of 3,000 in two thirds of the states, a smaller number of members in two thirds of the country’s districts and at least a 0.26% of the members from the total registered voters (Jones M. 14). This kind of proposal should be adopted by the nations to strengthen their political party systems.

Another proposal is related to political parties’ extinction of weak political parties which need to be removed because they usually act as parties of convenience or just crowding at the ballot paper. This will be done by reforms that propose a minimum percentage of the votes that parties need to win in each of the legislative election. This will be illustrated by the case in El Salvador. Political parties here require at least 3% of the valid vote at the national level to maintain their registration as a party (15). Therefore, a party will be disbanded if it does not garner a total of 3% votes in the national election.

The other reform involves the formation of alliances in the national elections. Like in the case of Brazil, all the political parties’ alliances ought to have a national scope. Decisions on the alliances are to be made by the political parties’ national leadership.

Party and campaign finance

Another set of reforms are those that aim to influence the campaign systems and funding of the political parties in these countries. It is proposed that the state should do the funding to these political parties and the money will be used to promote education, mobilization and staff recruitment to assist in deepening political parties with the voters. Although funding may vary per country, it should be somewhere at 0.2%-0.5% of the respective country’s budget to allow politicians to remain in one party and be able to engage in outreach activities.

Voting reforms

These sorts of reforms are meant to increase candidate linkages between candidates for public office. This will have the effect of encouraging party-oriented type of voting. Reforms should also be initiated such that the presidential and legislative elections are held on the same day.

These various reforms proposed above will together increase party system institutionalization and reduce the issue of short term-populist parties that fizzle out quickly and the personal appeal to voters.

Women’s representation in Latin America

In 1995, the Fourth conference on women was held in Beijing and it highlighted the under representation of women in major decision making organs and gave out policies that governments can adopt to reverse the under representation and also providing tools that will strengthen women’s role as political leaders. The Beijing conference recommended that governments should seek policies that will lead to increasing the number of women in public offices. I will look at the purpose of women’s participation in Latin America’s political stage and I will seek further to analyze to what extent women have achieved in party politics and political office. 

Background information on women’s suffrage in Latin America

The struggles in many of the Latin countries started in the 20th century and Ecuador was the first country to grant women the right to vote in 1929 while the last country to grant the rights was Paraguay in 1961. The 20th century was marked by non-democratic politics b about 47% of the governments (Llanos B. and Sample K. Pg.14). Between 1996 and 2000, eleven of these Latin American countries adopted legislation that required a certain minimum percentage of women on party list that participated in elections.

The under-representation of women in legislative bodies has been recognized by scholars and policymakers as a serious democratic gap that needs to be bridged. An economic session for Latin America in 2007 identified that out of the 29 legislative assemblies; only the Argentinean senate has at least 40% women while other three other legislatives have at least 30% women in legislative representation (Argentina senate, Costa Rican legislative assembly and Argentinean chamber of Deputies). (Jones M. Pg. 22-23).

A report on women’s participation in public office that is available shows that while gains have been made, they are not uniform across the larger Latin America. During this period, some notable positive changes that have been made include the following:

  • A total of five women have since won the presidential vote democratically through the ballot: Mireya Moscoso in Panama, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina, Violeta Chamarro in Nicaragua, Michelle Bachelet in Chile and the recent election of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
  • Through affirmative action in 11 countries, women now occupy 18.5% of the regions lower houses of congress seats. 
  • The number of cabinet held by women has increased to 24.5% and notably by some portifolios that were largely held by men, this has been possible due to campaigns that promise to include women in administration. (Llanos B. and Sample K. Pg.10)

Although the above shows some achievements that have been made so far too include women I the government or having them elected to the highest office, a lot remains to be done to achieve equality as far as public power is concerned. The following shows that equality is a far cry from what is expected to achieve this equality:

  • 11 countries have adopted the legislative quotas but only a paltry 20.5% of the seats in the lower house are held by women while in the other seven countries 14% hold such seats.
  • Even in the 11 countries that have adopted the quotas, there are still big differences as per each country; while it is 38.3% in Argentina, it is a paltry 8.3% in Brazil.
  • Although a significant number of women have made it to congress, they have not unlocked the other public places like that of mayoral seats where they hold only 10% of the mayoral seats in 15 of these countries and only in Brazil and Ecuador we can find a double digit for women who head regional governments. (Llanos B. and Sample K. Pg. 11).

Women’s representation

There are three main areas that need to be improved and reforms adopted to increase the representation of women in Latin America’s legislatures. These are: list format, quota legislation and party magnitude. Each country should look the most effective of these methods and adopt one that will work for them to increase the number of women legislators. The best option that has been identified is the use of quotas if these countries want to increase the percentage in the short-term or even medium-term.

All countries are required to adopt then the quota system that will provide for; no more than half of the legislative candidates for a particular party in each district can be of the same sex, but if an odd number of the candidates then the extra candidate can be from either of the sex. For the closed list system, the list of the candidates must be zippered, while the first candidate can be of either sex the subsequent candidates will have to alternate between the sexes.   For the open list system, a 50% quota system is adopted. The legislations should also have rigid compliance standard such that those parties that do not comply from the set rules are barred from running candidates in that district. (Llanos B. and Sample K. Pg. 36).

For the closed systems with quotas, the reforms suggested could have a modest and important impact on the women’s representation by slowly but steadily increasing the quota system i.e. from the present 30% to 33/% then maybe to 40% and finally the target of 50% which will achieve a 100% compliance.( Llanos B. and Sample K. Pg. 36). A point in case is Argentina’s quota law since 1991 which established that at least 30% of the candidates for elected office must be women. And later through the Beijing conference, more of the Latin America’s legislatures began to adopt the same mechanism as Argentina. In 1996, Costa Rica, Mexico and Paraguay adopted the quotas and were later followed by Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and the Dominican republic in 1997 and lastly by Honduras in 2000. The main aim of these quotas is to do away with the traditional political imbalance between men and women and thus level the playing field by establishing the minimum levels for participation (Jones M.  Pg. 28).

Presently, a higher number of countries 11 of them have adopted the quota system from a minimum of 20% to 50%. These include: Ecuador with 50% (they set a new quota system at 30% with a gradual increase of 5% in each election period till they reached the 50% in the 2006 elections) and Costa Rica at 40% are the countries that have the highest women representation. (Jones M. Pg. 28). Although there is progress, not all countries have adopted the quota system as suggested during the Beijing conference, a case in point is Venezuela. The country has demonstrated a resistance to affirmative action mechanisms. A quota entrenched to fulfill the recommendations was quashed in the 1998 general elections by the National Electoral Council which argued that it was against their constitution’s principle of equality and further the country’s Supreme Court upheld the ruling. Pressure from women’s movements in the country during the 2005 election that demanded a zebra-list placement was not as successful as many of the parties did not comply with the initiative. It is still not clear whether Congress will reinstate the quotas through legislation. (Jones M.  Pg, 29).

Despite the fact that women now occupy have a bigger representation in power than it was years back, a study by ECLA in 2004 and 2007 showed that nearly 50% of the women above age 15 lack their own sources of income. Workers who are women are usually in unstable and poorly paying jobs with wide accusations that women are also discriminated in wage discrimination. Women are generally barred from public and political office from the fact that most of them are considered as being poor. Female candidates tend to incur huge costs during campaigns than their male counterparts. The media also is to blame when covering congressional candidates during campaigns, a research done by the International IDEA and Asociacion Civil transparencia in 2007showed that the print media covers 81.41% about men candidates and only 18.59 for women while television gave a 22.22% for women and the rest to men (Jones M. Pg. 40-41), clearly this is a biased approach.

Developments in Latin America and relations with the US

As discussed above, Latin America has experienced a twin transition from non-democratic institutions to democratic ones and from state-led economic developments to an outward market oriented neoliberalism. These political and economic developments has uplifted the region as a whole and ensured that new opportunities arise to improve the lives of people in the region.

Another question now that comes to mind is “how has been and what is the current relationship of these Latin American countries with the world superpower, the US?” for sometime in the early 1990s, the US seemed to have had a strong foothold in Latin America especially in central America’s wars that the US largely contributed to settle. The US also helped end most of the region’s debt-induced recession especially using the Brady effect, the US, Mexico and Canada signed the NAFTA, North America Free Trade Agreement and through the US’s rescue package, Mexico’s economy was rescued from collapse by the US. But since then, Washington’s policy on Latin America seems to have drifted and relations are now at the lowest point since the cold war (Hakim P. Pg. 1-2), at least before Obama was elected in the 2008 elections.  The influence of US in Latin America has waned and few Latin Americans think that the US is a dependable partner mainly due to the refusal  of Clinton’s and George Bush’s administrations to stand up to domestic constituencies.

The sour relations between the two regions have resulted to lost opportunities for both of them.  Democratic progress in Latin America as a result has deteriorated in some countries due to poor economic and social performance. The US also loses a big market estimated at $150 billion a year as it leaves the countries untapped. This stability is also threatened by an upsurge of crime in almost all of the Latin America as the US interest s in the regions wanes.

During Bush’s speech about Latin America, he promised that Latin America could be given priority in his administration. Although there was renewed interest in the region; flow of direct investments, lows rates of inflation and huge remittances back home but after five years, the administration’s attitude changed after disappointments by developments in the region over a variety of issues. Thus the growth rate of Latin America was slow compared to countries in more dynamic regions. Another trouble for US is that they like showcasing Latin America as an epitome of democracy (apart from Cuba which is under authoritarian rule) but in the last 10 years, about 12 presidents have been forced out of office by either street protests or mob violence. The case in point is for: Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Hence the disillusionment of Bush’s administration with Latin America compounded by the fact that only seven countries supported the invasion of Iraq. Washington is also worried that China’s growing presence in Latin America. Latin America sees the huge financial resources promised by China as a substitute to the US’s aid (Hakim P. Pg. 7-9).      

 So, what are the present relations of US and Latin America since the election of Obama to present? Soon after Obama’s inauguration, there were high level visits to Latin America and then various initiatives announced towards the region. Obama called for a “new beginning” with Cuba and US relations and later loosening sanctions. The other reason for sudden interest to Latin America was that some countries in the region like Mexico were important in their day-to-day concerns. The Obama administration has recognized that the Latin America region is actually going in different directions and that one size cannot be fit for all. They have tried to reframe the US policy to cater for the different mix of the Latin Americans. The Obama administration is now concentrating more on poverty, inequality, energy and citizen security and new approaches to gun and drug trafficking and immigration. However by Obama’s end of first year in office, there was dissatisfaction about the US’s Latin America policy. But the Obama administration has still more room and the advantages to maneuver a better policy especially the one he took early this year of doubling US exports and identified some countries in Latin America as important trading partners with the US (Lowenthal A. Pg. 1-7).

Conclusion

Democracies in Latin America have faced a lot of challenges. I have in the paper examined the critical challenges that they have faced while factoring in the diversity in the region. I have also examined the relations that have been there with the region and the US and briefly looked at Obama’s policy toward the region and if it will have any impact. I also examined women and power in Latin America and how the quota system is giving women more power although more needs to be done. Some countries (Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay) were identified to have such stable democracies that they could rival that of Europe while others (Cuba, Guatemala, Venezuela) have poor records of democracy. 

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