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Rise of Democracy in South America


 South America is a land of different cultures and has a history 
of as many different types of government, mostly dictatorships. Most 
of South America won independence from Spain and Portugal between 1810 
and 1824. In 1823, President James Monroe enunciated the first US 
policy on Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine warned European nations 
against interfering in the affairs of independent nations in the 
Western Hemisphere. In 1904, Roosevelt's Corollary said the US would 
act as a "policeman", intervening militarily when US interests were at 
risk. After W.W.II, the independent countries of the Western 
Hemisphere formed the Organization of American States, a military 
alliance to prevent aggression against any American nation. South 
America is the fourth largest continent. It ranks fifth in population. 
 The continent is divided into 12 independent countries and two
political units. The countries consist of Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela,
Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana,
Surinam, and French Guinea. In the 12 countries of South America,
democracy has slowly been on the rise since 1959. The rise started in
Venezuela and ended in Surinam last year. One by one South America's
countries have turned form dictatorships into democracies where the 
voters control the elections.
 Even with democracy taking control, the countries still have 
many problems. The largest problem is the tradition of corruption of 
the political leaders. The corruption has mainly been the use of 
bribe-taking and bribe-giving. "By definition, democracy presumes 
equal opportunity; bribery and corruption make the playing field 
uneven and weakens democracy's foundations." Recently, corruption has 
reached into high places in Venezuela and Brazil. President Carlos 
Perez (1993) and Fernando Collor de Mello (1992) were forced to resign 
when faced with corruption charges.
 The large drug trade has also caused problems for the rise of
democracy in South America. Each year, hundreds of tons of Cocaine 
feed an illegal US drug market. It is worth an estimated $38 billion a 
year. This illegal money has found its way into the pockets of many 
people in high places. In Columbia, a major source of illegal drugs 
for the US, President Ernesto Samper was accused of taking a $6 
million bribe to allow drug trafficking to continue as usual. 
Laundered drug money has financed development in many South American 
cities, but it has also brought bloodshed.
 The large gap between rich and poor of South America has 
presented another challenge for democracy. In South America, the rich 
keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. But since the 
rise of democracy economic conditions have not worsened. Recently, the 
poor have been taking their demands for better economic conditions to 
the streets. In Argentina, workers have protested the privation 
policies of President Carlos Menem. They are demanding job security to 
go back to "the good old days" of the Peron era.
 The military also threatens democratic systems in South America. 
Today the soldiers are back in their barracks, "but in most nations, 
the possibility remains that the generals, heeding a real or imagined 
call to restore order, will impose military rule. This threat is 
illustrated by Chilean President Eduardo Frei's problems with Chile's 
former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet who still controls the military 
until the year 1998. Each country in South America has faced some 
action that has tried to return them to what they once 
were--dictatorships. In Venezuela, which has the oldest civilian 
regime in South America, suffered two coup attempts by
army officers in 1992; both were unsuccessful and were put down.
In Chile, Gen. Pinochet still commands the armed forces, but because
of free elections he is no longer the head of state. With democracy 
having a hard time in South America, "only Chile seems to respect the 
rule of law."
 In Bolivia, which had 189 military coups in its first 168 years 
of independence, has become a country with stable democracy. Voters 
elected President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to be the head of state in 
their new democracy. Columbia, the most violent country in South 
America, has had the hardest time dealing with corruption in their 
democracy. This is due to their booming drug trade. It has 83 murders 
per 100,000 inhabitants, nine times the US murder rate. Someone gets 
killed in Bogota, the capital of Columbia, every hour. In Medillin 
it's every half hour. Columbia has a type of "narco-democracy" in 
which drug traffickers have achieved control over the top levels of 
government through bribery and intimidation.
 Brazil is another country where violent actions have played a 
part in the corruption of their democracy. Legislator Edmundo Galdino, 
paralyzed from the waist down by a hired gunman, said, "...its' 
easier, cheaper, and more certain of success to hire an assassin than 
a lawyer to sue someone in court." His government commission recently 
concluded that contract killers have 99% impunity, only 1% are ever 
convicted, making it the safest job in Brazil. Brazil's corruption 
dates back to its colonial days (1500-1822) when rich landowners 
developed a system of "exchange of favors." Brazil has come to be 
called the capitalist version of Russia. 
 After 11 years of democracy, Argentina is no longer in danger of 
a military takeover. Elected President Carlos Menem has tried to bring 
changes for the people, but has overlooked the fact that most of the 
people are suffering from the terrible economic conditions.
South America's most recent "coup" was in Peru in 1992. President
Alberto Fujimori fired congress and imposed martial law, "saying he 
could not tackle the country's pressing economic problems and Maoist 
insurgency under the constraints of democracy." Guerrillas that 
terrorize rural Peru have played a big part in hurting Peruvian 
democracy. Most recently, in Lima, terrorist captured the Chinese 
embassy. They were put down after an extended stand off in late April 
of 1997.
 For the first time ever, all twelve South American countries 
have democratic governments. South America, "a continent famous for 
coups and military dictators, has embraced civilian, democratic 
leadership." South American democracy is very fragile. As 
modernization, the exchange of ideas, and trade with other democracies 
begin to happen, "South Americans are hoping their democratic 
experiments will succeed."



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