Thursday, July 27, 2006

Book on Latin American authoritarianism

Authoritarianism in Latin America-dictators, despots and tyrants.
by Paul H. Lewis
This book ( published in 2006) gave some clues to my quest to understand the genesis of authoritarian rule in Latin America.

Latin America has been the victim of all kinds of dictaorships and laboratory of political and economic adventures. The continent has suffered dictatorship of Spanish monarchy, local caudillos, military dictators, one-party rule, two-party rule, oligarchic and corporatist regimes, marxist rule and leftist and rightist regimes. Trujillo of Dominican republic, Noriega of Panama and Somoza of Nicaragua epitomised latino dictatorship.

The author has gone into the roots of this authoritarian tendency. It starts off with the mother country Spain, which colonised most of Latin America. At the time of discoveries and colonisation, the Spanish became aggresive, fanatic and intolerant , having come out after seven hundred years of fighting with the Moors. Those Spanish who ventured out to Latin America carried this miltaristic and religious baggage with them. They had grabbed as much land and assets and fought to retain or expand them ruthlessly and had no pity for those who were not of their faith or colour.


Let us not forget that Spain and Portugal were the last dictatorships in Europe under Franco and Salazar till 1975 and 1970 respectively. One could not have expected anything better from their colonies.

One of the reasons for dictatorship and social disequilibrium in Latin America is racial. The only way in which the white colonisers could rule over majority mestizos( mixed blood) and native Indians was through dictatorship. In a democracy they would have lost to majority rule, as it has just happened in Bolivia. Although 65 percent of the Bolivians are native Indians, they were always ruled by a white minority until 2006 when Evo Morales was elected.

The racial factor is illustrated by a decree issued by Francia, the Paraguyan dictator ( called as El Supremo ) in 1814, under which white men were prohibited from marrying white women. Why? because when he fell in love with a white woman, he was rejected by the woman's family on the ground that he had mixed blood. Eventually, he got both the fater-in -law and the husband of his sweetheart killed after tortures.

Cruelty to opponents has remained as a part of the dictorships. The opponents could be from another race, political party or ideology. Thousands of people were jailed, torured, exiled, displaced and killed in the name of national security and ideology. The cruelty reached its height when the Argentine generals threw leftist prisoners from planes into the sea.

Latin America has now come out of military dictatorship and is consolidating the democratic instituitions and values. Although there are still residual authoritarian tendencies in the behaviour of some rulers who have managed to be despots within the framework of democracies, the power has passed to the masses irreversibly. This is the insurance for democracy and hope for the future.

1 comment:

aveg said...

The book rightly pointed out the ruthless nature of Spanish conquest of Latin America in 16th century. However, the argument that the main reason for dictatorships in LA is racial is not entirely tenable. Firstly, there have been dictatorships like that of Francia in Paraguay, mentioned in the book itself, by persons not of pure European blood. Secondly, even after democracy has been established in many countries, the heads of governments in majority of the countries are still white. Therefore, whites could and are ruling in a democracy even though they are in minority. Probably, this is the silver lining in the LA democracies that the elections are not always fought and won on racial lines. To support someone just because he is from a particular race is racial, irrespective of the fact whether he is native or European.