States and fragile democracies in Latin America: comparative analysis on institutional power and power in fact
This article is a comparative analysis of changes in the role of the state in Latin America, specifically in those countries where it is possible to distinguish cyclical movements of the strengthening and fragilization of the state's role in the ability to propose public policies, implement them, and have citizens take advantage of them. Firstly, we interpret the origin of the strength or fragility of the state and link this with, among other causes, the approximation to, or distancing from, neoliberal conceptions of the state in Latin America. A second argument relates these cycles of approximation to neoliberal conceptions of the ability to implement global public policy, to the extent that the state's role in policy development is intrinsically linked to the concept of state intervention. Thirdly, we link the capacity of Latin American states to consolidate gains generated by public policies with the involvement of society in the defense of these policies. We find a shift from political analysis toward other analyses promoted by actors using media channels and/or social networks, forming opinion and relegating political analysis to the background. In fourth place, we reinterpret the contradiction that Latin American countries face in trying to consolidate their public policies, as the cycles of political and economic strengthening-fragilization that develop in the region reveal the dilemma of conception of state intervention, which, being singular to the Latin American state, society, politics, and economy, is crucial for consolidating progress already attained and for moving toward a model of the state that prevents the reproduction of cycles of reversal for democracy, for the very conception of the role of the state, and for citizenship.
This paper is a comparative analysis of changes in the configuration of the role of the state in countries of Latin America, a region where it is possible to distinguish cyclical movements of the strengthening and fragilization of the state's role in the ability to propose public policies, implement them, and have citizens take advantage of them. Fragile states do not allow citizens to see the state in action (Jobert and Muller, 1978). We believe that the option for the analysis of public policy as the state in action is timely, because it reveals the relationship between state and society, and between state and social groups, in a context of demands and stresses that involve both approximation and distancing.
We adopt the thesis of the singular nature of state in Latin America (Faletto, 1989) not only because it seems necessary from the point of view of comparative methodological analysis, but because of the five aspects on which it is based: the external influences in the configuration of the national state in Latin America; relations between the state and the national economy; relations between the state and civil society; relations among the state and the political system; and the state apparatus in the strict sense. The present-day relevance of Faletto’s work regarding the notion of singularity derives from his analysis based on concepts and theoretical formulations formulated almost fifty years ago, such as dependency and weakness, economic system, and political system.
First of all, we wish to interpret the origin of the strength-fragility of the state and link this with the approximation to, or distancing from, neoliberal conceptions of the state that have been observed in Latin America over the last thirty years. Since the first half of the 1980s, all Latin American countries have elected their leaders democratically, in at least six cases choosing parties and party alliances on the ideological spectrum of right, center right and center left. The state and public policies have also reflected in each new situation the concept of state that these political forces possessed upon assuming control of the government and state. It is possible to say that on basis of the harmony between parties and party alliances in the government, and the global hegemonic conceptions of the role of the state, one can verify the existence of a policy of facilitating or hindering external relations in the region. We wish to highlight the conditions of the weakness of the state in facing the political and economic challenges arising from these relationships (Faletto, 1989, p. 4-5). The mode and form of defining the external relations of the Latin American state is essentially singular because it is based on a position of dependence (e.g., center-periphery relations, central and peripheral states) and also on internal readings of the economic and social formation of local capitalism and its links with international capitalism. The strength and weakness of the state are linked strongly to this relationship because parties and party alliances in the government approach or distance themselves from global hegemonic conceptions (Aguilar, 2013). Thus we can understand that there are cycles of approach and distancing, and that these cycles determine the configuration of the role of the state and its capacity to intervene. All election disputes cyclically show this polarization in election campaigns, in the discourse of the candidates, and in the role of media actors, and thus extend the antagonistic nature of the debate to society as a whole.
As a second point, we wish to relate these cycles of approximation to neoliberal ideas regarding the ability to implement public policies, to the extent that the state's role in policy making is essentially associated with the concept of intervention. Between 1990 and 2009, we find two clearly defined opposing cycles related to the concept of state intervention: one, found during the rise of neoliberalism in the region in the 1990s, where the state ceded spaces of actuation (state spaces previously prepared, profitable, and attractive) to national or transnational private initiative, and facilitated private sector access to various state and public spaces. Another cycle occurred between 2005 and 2008, during the global crisis and the crisis of neoliberalism in the region, which called for state intervention to aid national or transnational private companies and to implement powerful inclusive social policies to counteract the exclusionary effects of the neoliberal cycle. "The legacy of neoliberalism in the region left a brutal monopolistic concentration in trade, finance, and the media, the deepening of the poverty and exclusion experienced by the majority, and the destruction of state social intervention for the benefit of the market" (Sader and Gentili, 1999, p. 156).
This resumption of mediations to society in terms of public health, housing, security, and education radically changed the meaning of intervention in the post-neoliberal environment. The concept of state intervention is methodologically at the epicenter of the comparative analysis of these cycles, due to the crucial difference. Since the beginning of the 1980s, years of return to democracy in the region, the role of state and its singularity, according to Faletto, have been instrumental in understanding the political and economic limits of a newly conquered democracy whose consolidation is permanently tested.
In mid-2013, Brazil and other countries in the region saw popular demonstrations, with a capacity for mobilization, which were not in accord with conventional analytical patterns and which added new elements of analysis to singularity, connecting the "four readings of crisis": a crisis of democracy; a crisis of capitalism; a crisis of the political system; and a crisis of the economic system. From a comparative point of view, we will try to make this analytical exercise go beyond conceptions that have been made into consensus, both within and without the academy, by large media groups.
In this regard we cite Messenberg Guimarães et al. (2014) in order to emphasize that it is important “to analyze the Latin American experience in the debate on the challenges of democratic consolidation, both from a macro-systemic perspective, covering the structures and dynamics of the development of capitalism and the conditions of the integration of the region into the world system, as well as from the perspective of the practices and interactions of actors and institutions that stand out as protagonists in processes that, somehow, influence structures and dynamics and are influenced by them. The emergence of waves of social protest in numerous Brazilian cities beginning in 2013 (concerning Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup), when observed in a larger context involving similar phenomena in other countries in the region and the world, reinforces in an interrelated manner the option for such perspectives as a successful strategy in the field of social sciences and related areas.”
A fundamental point of this analysis recommends a cross-reading of the set of articles cited above with the aim of distinguishing historicity and macro-structural processes, in order to understand the crisis of democracy associated with the crisis of capitalism and, specifically, the crisis of the political system linked to the crisis of the dominant economic system. We emphasize this matrix of analysis, as it contains various comparative elements, temporal juxtapositions, and a valuable exercise in the analysis of similarities and differences that are fundamental to a knowledge of this subject as it relates to the region. We argue that, from these four crises, we can distinguish by comparative analysis that opinion makers from large media groups have gained centrality in the space of debate and consensus, with the crisis of the political system and the crisis of democracy silencing the crisis of capitalism and the dominant economic system.
Thirdly, there is a link between the capacity of Latin American states to consolidate progress in the implementation of public policies and to involve society in the defense of these advances. There seems to be a shift from political analysis to other forms of analysis, and to consensus promoted by actors using media devices or social networks and forming opinion, so that the analysis (and evaluation) of public policy is relegated to the background. If, since 1990, there has been a significant advance in knowledge, analysis, and evaluation of public policies in the region, it is also possible to say that this knowledge is limited to academic areas and, in a diffuse way, to the recipients/users of public policies. We infer that part of the diffuse character of this knowledge is due to "mediatized" perceptions of the impacts of public policy – perceptions of more (or less) inclusiveness, of improvement (or not) in the purchasing power of wages, of improved access (or not) to consumer goods, and of improvements (or not) in health services, housing, safety, and public or private education.
The perception of the impact of public policies, aside from the clear perception (or not) of the recipients, have a high cost for states and governments who must pay for propaganda in public (where available) and private media to adjust these perceptions. At the same time, the impacts of these policies are translated and made into consensus by major telecommunications groups who form opinion in favor of the interests linked to these groups. In this way, large groups telecommunications groups impose another public policy agenda, another reading of the relationship between public policy and democracy, between political parties and democracy, between state and democracy. This variable is new to the singularity of the state in Latin America.
Date from the Observatório da Imprensa (Press Observatory 2007) provide a crucial link between media and democracy in Latin America. We emphasize the (Report on Democracy on Latin America – Path to a democracy of citizens) (UNDP, 2004) which points out, among the obstacles to democratic consolidation, three fundamental items: (1) "internal constraints deriving from the proliferation of inadequate institutional controls and the multiplication of interest groups that function as powerful lobbies, as well as external constraints deriving from the behavior of international markets, risk rating agencies, and international lending agencies; (2) the threat of drug trafficking; (3) the media".
We are in accord with Lima (2007), who adopts the point of view of an analysis by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) entitled “La Democracia en América Latina: Hacia una democracia de ciudadanas y ciudadanos” (Democracy in Latin America – Towards a democracy of citizens) which portrays a situation in which there is tension between institutional power and power in fact. This analysis occupies a central place relevant to the role of the state (its strength or fragility) and definitively conditions the perception that the political class and citizens have of democracy in the region.
To achieve a better explanation of the internal constraints we will separate them from the external ones, notwithstanding the fact that they can produce a catastrophic or paradisiacal vision when combined. When we talk about inadequate institutional controls that proliferate, superimposing actions of control, monitoring, evaluation, and regulation, we must necessarily understand them in the context of the multiplicity of interests that are at stake when state actions threaten to control, monitor, evaluate, and/or regulate sectors society where these interests are organized as powerful lobbies. These lobbies are active in the spheres of the constituted powers – in the legislatures, to the point of having their own representatives and caucuses, and in the executive branch, reaching into hierarchically important departments, ministries, and agencies.
The relationship between these interests and the action of the state is evident in concrete forms of conditioning in governance and in success in passing public policy initiatives that need parliamentary support in order to become laws. Governments with fragile majorities have seriously compromised their autonomy in formulating and implementing policies, just as their relying on alliances for governability has produced contrary effects and compromises the course of policy action. These relationships, which are anchored in governance, determine and condition the scope of the intentions of public policy, changing its course of action (Dunn, 1994) and/or diluting it. Governance and the implementation of initiatives by the executive branch are two crucial and complex areas that, in Latin America, the government and the state have failed to develop adequately in order to generate more solid edifices of state and government.
If we clearly observe the concentration of powerful private telecommunications groups in the region, and how they act decisively in presidential elections in these countries, we can infer the direct relationship between the media and economic powers that has come to replace political parties. This relationship reinforces the thesis of the tension between institutional power and power in fact. In this regard, Lima Vade of the Observatório da Imprensa, has published an analysis of the relationship between presidential elections and the media from 2005 to 2006. In six elections held in this period, the winning presidential candidates faced a majority of negative coverage in the media in Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Venezuela. This publication is valuable because it allows a comparison of the previous decade with the present one, taking 2015/2016 as a point of departure. In this new decade the powerful telecommunications groups would be victorious in presidential elections.
The formation of opinion in relation to knowledge, analysis, and evaluation of public policy is closely linked to the monopoly role of these corporations and, as consensus spread rapidly in "drops" through social networking and the opposition, is directly related to the fragility and dependency of the state in its ability to communicate to large segments of the population. Relations between the state and civil society are thus intersected by other agendas and mediations focused on media and economic interests. These may or may not be associated with local party structures, and they monopolize the view of institutions, democracy, political parties, the government, the state, and public policy. How then can the achievements of public policies be defended, if citizens can not "see" the state in action? They can not see the state as a fundamental actor of public policy. In this regard, we want to ponder the weight of opinion makers associated with their ability to control or limit the action of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. This being the case, we argue that it far exceeds the exercise of their right to inform, reaffirming their power in fact.
Extending the notion of the control and limitation of the action of the three powers, it seems appropriate here to explain the way that the judiciary fears the repercussions of its decisions on civil society, given that opinion formers create consensus attuned to their own interests. This is also seen in the decisions of parliaments, and even in the political and economic decisions of executive branches throughout Latin America. In this regard, it is important to recognize that the performance of these corporations affects and decides the orientation of economic policies when they directly influence the "mood" of the market, as they have shown themselves able to facilitate or impede economic policies.
In this role, the media has articulated the set of signals of risk rating agencies in countries of the region, and together they have been instrumental in indicating the market’s political and economic preferences regarding the role of the state.
Three resources seem essential for comparative analysis: (1) the reconstruction of economic, political, and social scenarios; (2) the use of simultaneity as a temporal and causal dimension of analysis; (3) the use of the concept of timeline for recognizing a dimension of spatial analysis of the time where contexts and actors are located, as well as for recognizing regularities.
The fragility of the Latin American state, from this perspective, adds these two new elements to the characterization of the specificity that is decisive for comparative analysis. We understand, for example, that until the beginning of the 1980s the specificity of Latin American democracies was characterized, from an institutional perspective, by the failure of the democratic order in coups d’état carried out by the military. Today the ability to affect governance is not in the hands of the military, but in the hands of other actors equal to or potentially more effective in changing the institutional setting of democracy, forming opinion and mobilizing society in the direction of their political and economic interests.
It is also possible to affirm that the processes of concentration and monopoly of the media in the region are directly related to government policies that favored concentration and monopoly in times of political harmony with governments. This also shows how democracies have failed to reverse the situation, because aside from state policies with the force of legal imperative, one may add financial capital, business management, the power of shareholders, and the integration of the telecommunications with media and culture that together impede discussion and decision by the state on the plurality and diversity of media communication and their democratization.
From the point of view of this analysis, using the concept of crucial difference, the role of telecommunications groups in politics and the economy in Latin America is crucial in the analysis of governance, of the independence of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers, and of how perceptions of public policy are shaped in civil society. Compared to other states and democracies on the planet, it is important to weigh this condition to improve comparisons based on the analysis of differentiation.
A fourth point we wish to make reinterprets the contradiction that Latin American countries face in trying to consolidate their public policies. The cycles of political and economic strengthening-fragility that occur in the region reveal the dilemma of the concept of intervention by these states. This intervention, being a singularity of the Latin American state, society, politics, and economy, is crucial to consolidating progress already achieved, as well as to balancing development with the performance of the public and private spheres in the face of global citizenship as seen, for example, in UNESCO’s Agenda 2030.
The analysis of the singularity of the state in Latin America from a comparative point of view allows us to recognize, in the three decades since the return to democracy, transformations from the political and economic perspectives (Iazzetta, 2007). These transformations operate according to the logic of transitions: political transitions from military to civilian governments; transitions between civilian governments and economic transitions from the state to the market; and experiments with transitions from market to state, defined within the course and scope of public policy, and including policies in education and other areas (Aguilar, 2000, 2010).
An imaginary timeline can show us that UNESCO’s great challenges, such as that of global citizenship, remain. However, from a structural point of view, the outline of clear of cycles of progress and setbacks greatly affected by this specificity can be seen. It may be observed that since the beginning of the 1990s to the present (2016), the structure of analyses of the state incorporate new elements linked to national and regional development, the state’s integration as an economic unit, its historical and cultural identities, its interfaces with globalization, and macro-structural processes (Messenber Guimarães et al., 2014) that define its future and that of its inhabitants. For this reason, the management and governance of education and the monitoring and evaluation of educational systems are directly linked to how the strength or fragility of states in the region develops. Fragile states can not implement educational policies that promote the formation of global citizens.
1. Laboratory of Public Policy and Educational Planning www.lapplane.fe.unicamp.br Tel: +55 19 3521 5551 - Department of Policy, Administration and Educational Systems (DEPASE) Faculty of Education, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Campinas, Brazil www.unicamp.br Ibero-American Observatory of Comparative Studies in Education www.oiece.org Brazilian Society of Comparative Education www.sbec.org.br Tel.: +55 19 352155 56 Cell: +55 99014 19 66 63 Skype: luis_enrique_aguilar E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Curriculum Vitae: lattes.cnpq.br/3254286158593353
2. We do not approach in this article a process that is progressively potent and has been recognized as the judicialization of politics, recognizable from the figure of the control that, on the implementation of public policies, exercises the Judiciary Power. In the meantime, and temporally distinct, a process that induces a set of meanings is the politicization of justice that is recognizable as a sort of partisanization of the acts of the judiciary, which, in concrete terms, would introduce a fourth item to analyze as a whole. Combination shows a potential that should be considered in the scenario where democracies in Latin America are developing. (See more in Spaolonzi Queiroz Assis, A.E. Right to education and powers dialogue, Doctoral Thesis, 2012, UNICAMP)
3. See “Se nos rompió el amor – Elecciones y medios de comunicación”, América Latina, 2006, Fundación Friedrich Ebert (FES), Colombia.
4. “Drops”: minimal information that can circulate in mobile communication devices and social networks.
5. See in this regard the excellent analysis of media and democracy Latin America by Maria Pia Matta, jornalist and president of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters: www.diploamatique.org.bre/print.php?tipo=ar&id=978, accessed in January, 2016.
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Dr. Luis Enrique Aguilar
Brazil Carnival Image Attribution: By Nicolas de Camaret from São Paulo, Brazil (Carnaval 2014 - Rio de Janeiro) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Gramophone image attribution: By Norman Bruderhofer (Collection of John Lampert-Hopkins) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons