The death of Hugo Chavez reminded me that I had to discuss this wonderful piece by Larry Diamond. He discusses how the myth that Global South countries are not "read for democracy" and how that should be dispensed with immediately. In many ways, the last few years of Chavez's life are a testament to this. He lost a considerable amount of control over Venezuela and his long term vision for the future of the country came under intense scrutiny.
The fact is that Chavez was no great hero or visionary. He simply rode the wave of oil wealth and made people believe that his way was the best way for Venezuela. Globalization has proved him to be massively wrong. The once robust economy has returned to where it was 50 years ago, other industries in the country have suffered, and they are currently running a 15 percent deficit of GDP. With so much government control, their economy simply cannot compete in the world. Other dictators like Fidel Castro have recognized this as well.
Even though Diamond wrote his piece primarily focusing on other areas of the world, the same paradigm applies to Middle America and South America.
The lower- and middle-income democracies that did come through the last two decades intact have shown that authoritarianism confers no intrinsic developmental advantage. For every Singapore-style authoritarian economic “miracle,” there have been many more instances of implosion or stagnation—as in Zaire, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and (until recently) Burma— resulting from predatory authoritarian rule.
Right. In fact, the assertion that tyranny and dictatorships are "just around the corner" in many parts of the world is also a myth.
While it remains true that democracy is more sustainable at higher levels of development, an unprecedented number of poor countries adopted democratic forms of government during the 1980s and ’90s, and many of them have sustained democracy for well over a decade. These include several African countries, such as Ghana, Benin, and Senegal, and one of the poorest Asian countries, Bangladesh. Other very poor countries, such as East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, are now using the political institutions of democracy as they rebuild their economies and states after civil war. Although the world has been in a mild democratic recession since about 2006, with reversals concentrated disproportionately in low-income and lower-middle-income states, a significant number of democracies in these income categories continue to function.
Yes, they do because democracy is the best system to fit in with this era of globalization. And countries aren't the only ones that have embraced it.
Further refuting the skeptics, democracy has taken root or at least been embraced by every major cultural group, not just the societies of the West with their Protestant traditions. Most Catholic countries are now democracies, and very stable ones at that. Democracy has thrived in a Hindu state, Buddhist states, and a Jewish state. And many predominantly Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Bangladesh, Senegal, and Indonesia, have by now had significant and mainly positive experience with democracy.
Diamond also discusses Hugo Chavez towards the end of the piece.
Despite the persistence of authoritarianism under Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and the authoritarian tendencies of left-wing populist presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, the bigger story in Latin America has been democratic resilience and deepening. Chile and Uruguay have become stable liberal democracies, Brazil has made dramatic democratic and economic progress, and even once chronically unstable Peru has seen three successive democratically elected presidents deliver brisk economic growth with declining poverty rates. In fact, Latin America is the only region of the world where income inequality has decreased in the last decade.
To me, the death of Hugo Chavez is symbolic of a much larger sea change. The time of dictators and authoritarian rule is drawing to a close. Countries like North Korea and Iran will not exist as they do now in a decade. The prosperity that has resulted from globalization is going to squash them like a thousand ton weight.