THE COMPLEX ISSUE OF DEMOCRATIC SUSTAINABILITY
During the last two decades, liberal, representative democracy in Latin America has been surprisingly stable. Whereas the Second Wave of democratization (1940s–1950s) was followed by a strong rip tide that undermined many new civilian regimes in the 1960s and 1970s, the Third Wave has spawned few reversals, especially outside the Andean region. One of the most striking cases of relative success is Brazil, whose first “experiment in democracy” after 1946 (Skidmore 1967) was rocked by military rebellions, threatened by serious succession crises, and finally derailed by sociopolitical polarization that triggered the military coup of 1964. By contrast, the “New Republic” installed in 1985 has faced fewer and less serious challenges, and the crises that did occur have been resolved inside the democratic institutional framework. Besides having a better record on sustainability, the new democracy also features higher quality on some important dimensions, such as popular participation, the vibrancy of civil society, the accountability of top political and government leaders, and the independence of civilian politics from military interference.
These accomplishments are noteworthy given that Brazil continues to suffer from serious structural problems, such as large-scale poverty and egregious social inequality, which are often regarded as obstacles to stable democracy. And economic growth, which could provide resources for buying off discontented sectors, has not been higher and steadier after 1985 than before 1964.
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