Democratic Revival in South America

November 9, 1984

Report Outline
Trend to Civilian Rule
Military Involvement
Economic Perils Ahead
Special Focus

Trend to Civilian Rule

Cyclical Nature of Region's Democracy

Democracy seems to rise and fall like a tide in Latin America. So closely intertwined are the politics and economies of the Latin American republics that movements toward or away from authoritarian governments in one country more often than not trigger parallel reactions in others. The democratic tide is now rising throughout the hemisphere and particularly in South America, but there is no guarantee, given the history of the region, with its chronic instability, that the trend toward civilian elected governments will be permanent or even that it will continue for a prolonged period.

Even as the generals return to their barracks, the South American governments face a challenge of unprecedented proportions in the form of a mountain of foreign debts that have been accumulated over the past decade by military and civilian regimes alike. By draining capital in huge gulps for debt repayment, slowing down the rate of economic development and depressing living standards throughout the region, the debt is a time bomb threatening to destroy not only stability in South America but the integrity of the international financial system as well. It is no exaggeration to say that resolution of the debt problem is the indispensable condition of the future well-being of the democracies of South America and indeed of all Latin America and the Third World.

Argentina will celebrate a full year of democratic rule on Dec. 10, after enduring seven and a half years of sometimes brutal and often inept military control. Uruguayans are to vote for a new government on Nov. 25 to bring to a close 11 years of de facto rule by the military. Brazil's electoral college, made up of the National Congress and officials of state governments, is due to choose a civilian president on Jan. 15, 1985. If a new president takes office March 15 as scheduled, it would mark the first time in nearly 21 years that a military man has not held the reins of power in Brasilia. Moreover, dissension within the official government party has made it highly likely that the opposition candidate, Tancredo Neves, former governor of the state of Minas Gerais and prime minister of Brazil before the military coup in 1964, will defeat the government's nominee, Paulo Maluf, former governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's industrial heartland and its most populous state.

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