Índice de Transformación Bertelsmann 2020
In global comparison, Europe and Latin America have the highest quality of democracy. It is precisely here, however, that the strongest political regressions were recorded in the past decade. This makes a transatlantic dialog all the more important, to jointly analyze the threats to participation and the rule of law and develop democratization strategies. An important instrument for this is the BTI. The fact that the Transformation Index is now available in Spanish translation for the fourth time is due to the successful cooperation with our Argentinean partner CADAL.
The status of political transformation in both Latin America and in East-Central and Southeast Europe has fallen by half a point (on the BTI scale of 10) within a decade, a considerable loss in the quality of democracy on regional average. Although the country-specific transformation processes as well as some particular regional trends differ on both sides of the Atlantic, there are a striking number of common crisis symptoms and underlying causes.
In Latin America, the continuously declining level of political transformation can be traced back essentially to three groups of countries: the crisis states of Haiti and Venezuela, the new autocracies of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and the democracies of Brazil and Mexico, which have been destabilized by corruption and drug wars. Conversely, however, as Peter Thiery argues in his regional article, this also means that most democracies are proving to be surprisingly resilient and have not experienced any major slumps in the quality of democracy. Nevertheless, the protection of civil rights has deteriorated significantly on average in the region, especially under the regimes in Nicaragua and Venezuela, which are desperately clinging to power, and has fallen by almost one point on the BTI 10 scale. Nearly one-third of all Latin American countries are now governed autocratically, and the autocratization surge is particularly pronounced in Central America.
Some causes – such as the extremely high crime and violence rates and the drug problem, especially in Central America and Mexico – are region-specific, but in other aspects Latin America and East-Central and Southeast Europe resemble each other. On the one hand, social inequality is increasing or remains at a high level in many countries. In East-Central and Southeast Europe, it is particularly important that the prosperity gap with Western Europe is perceived as consistently high, so that socioeconomic polarization within the countries and a pronounced urban-rural divide are compounded by socioeconomic marginalization within Europe. In Latin America, which has always been one of the most unequal regions of the world, a reversal of that trend became possible as a result of the resource boom of the 2000s and early 2010s, but it was yet again reversed as a result of rapidly falling raw material prices, posing a fundamental threat to the “precarious middle classes” (Thiery) in particular. Social mobility is still actively hampered by the established elites, who are increasingly aggressive (as in Guatemala and Honduras) in clinging to political power.
The political elites’ inability to reform is illustrated particularly strongly by rampant corruption and systematic abuse of office. In East-Central and Southeast Europe and in Latin America (Odebrecht scandal, Lava Jato), several corruption scandals have been uncovered in which numerous high-ranking politicians had been involved for years. Many governments either vehemently oppose systematic punishment of abuse of office (Guatemala or Romania) or instrumentalize it by taking action only against political opponents (Brazil or Hungary). All of these developments have massive effects on the institutional stability of democracies. Of the five democracy criteria in the BTI, the stability of democratic institutions in Europe and Latin America has shown the greatest decline. In particular, the political elites’ commitment to maintaining and strengthening democratic processes plummeted in both regions.
Conversely, socioeconomic exclusion and justified distrust of the political elites have weakened the acceptance of democratic values, processes and institutions among the populations. With an average drop of about 0.8 points in both regions, the approval ratings for democracy fell very sharply, especially in Honduras (-4) and Hungary (-5). Increasingly, democratic values tend to be replaced by religious fundamentalist dogmas, a trend that has also affected Central and Southeast Europe and Latin America. Authoritarian, traditional and hierarchical values are propagated by arch-conservative representatives of the Catholic or Orthodox Church in Europe as well as by reactionary evangelical denominations in Latin America.
A lack of identification with democracy, the growing influence of reactionary authoritarian positions and a pronounced distrust of the established political elites increase susceptibility to populist demagogues. Their election successes have contributed significantly to the erosion of the quality of democracy. In an antipluralist manner, they understand their mandate as a revolution at the ballot boxes with the mandate to uncompromisingly implement the “will of the people”, as defined by themselves. To this end, they are successively concentrating power in the executive branch by cracking down on the judiciary, restricting freedom of the press and assembly, and manipulating elections.
It is to be feared that the COVID-19 pandemic will intensify many of the aforementioned negative developments. In times of crisis, the willingness to strengthen the executive branch grows, and many governments are tempted to consolidate their emergency powers and further weaken the separation of powers. The socioeconomic effects of the pandemic are clearly visible in the increase in poverty and inequality, and will further intensify social polarization.
Democracy is thus under pressure, both in Latin America and in Europe. A thorough analysis of past negative developments and a detailed study of the strengths and weaknesses of transformation processes are needed to develop appropriate strategies for strengthening democracy and human rights. Much can be learned from civil society organizations on both sides of the Atlantic that have successfully engaged in the fight against corruption (as in Brazil and Romania) and the curtailment of human rights (as in Colombia or Poland) or for a new, more inclusive constitution (as in Chile).
In this context, a democracy dialog between the two regions, which are still clearly democratic, has proven to be particularly fruitful. In transatlantic exchange, trends become better visible, ideas for democratization are more diverse, and intellectual exchange gains additional perspectives. In this respect, it was both appropriate and enriching to hold a discussion with European (Hauke Hartmann, Peter Thiery) and Latin American (Liliana de Riz, Patricio Navia) experts to accompany the publication of the Spanish BTI 2020, which we are pleased to document here.
We are pleased and grateful to have found a like-minded partner in the Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL), which follows transformation processes from a normative perspective and with a clear preference for democracy based on the rule of law. This extraordinary and intensive cooperation has now been ongoing for eight years. This year, CADAL published a Spanish edition of the Transformation Index for the fourth time. Once again, CADAL attracted numerous scientists and politicians who took up the core messages of the BTI and disseminated them in newspaper articles and their own analyses. CADAL also started a series of nine country analyses this summer, which were based on the BTI 2020 reports and offered in-depth evaluations from a Latin American perspective.
This partnership offers the BTI project completely new opportunities to enter into a direct and locally supported dialog with media, science and politics in Latin America. In this context, besides the many committed colleagues of CADAL, especially Director Gabriel Salvia is to be thanked. Without his vision and perseverance such a cooperation would not have been possible. His democratic internationalism is exemplary and indispensable for a transatlantic democratic dialog.