Saturday, October 30, 2010

Research Paper on Democracy in Argentina

Research Paper on Democracy in Argentina

Since 1983 Argentina has been hailed as a democracy. Certain people believe it is a democracy, other countries pretend it is a democracy but this idea is in fact far from the truth. The country may well have taken steps towards becoming a democracy, especially compared to how it was before 1983 but from analyzing the history and facts, the truth is, Argentina has a long way to go.

Throughout this essay I will be trying to prove this by analyzing the military, political and economic reforms of both Alfonsin and Menem with regards to the people. That is to say how it affected the people and how much say they actually had in these reforms and this will in turn show how democratic the country is and how much further they have to go in order to be on a par with the north. I will briefly outline the lead up to Alfonsins reign starting in 1983 so comparisons can be made and it is possible to see how far democracy has come since the military regimes of before.

Throughout Argentina’s history there had been long periods of military rule. The country had grown used to it and therefore to change to democracy was always going to be an extremely troublesome affair as the roots of rule in the country came from the military. It all came to ahead in 1976 when growing social protest due to huge inflation, increase in the public debt and reduction in wages, caused the military to violently repress those people protesting. They banned all normal political activity and the dirty war followed. This was when the military ran the country through terror. Anyone who was even rumored to believe in something other than that of the military was killed. In all thirty thousand people went missing or were killed. They had a very firm grip on things in Argentina but in 1983 the first elections were held. They came about due to a number of things combining to become powerful enough so the military had to stand down. The loss of the Falklands War had made them look bad for a start. That combined with enormous human rights uprisings and lack of needed support for the military from the United States caused them to bring about an elected government in 1983. They had originally thought the US would support them but they were in fact on the side of Margaret Thatcher, Britains Prime Minister and more importantly they were in favor of democracy. Alfonsin went on to win these elections with 52% of the votes.


J.A.Schumpeter believes, “the democratic method is that institutional arrangements for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the peoples vote.” This is a very basic sort of democracy, saying through talks of competition that other parties are involved and saying “the peoples vote” means that everyone has a say. This is simply saying that if there are elections, there is democracy which is true to an extent as elections are a democratic concept but there is a huge amount of other concepts to that have to be in working order if it is a true democracy. The US believe that as there are elections, then Argentina has succeeded in becoming a democracy and has hailed it in the past as an example to follow for all Latin American countries. Looking more closely shows that this is not exactly the case. It is not democracy ruling for the common good. The limited democracy favored the elites. The working class did not think they were in a democracy. All the powerful political people were amongst the upper class. The rest believed that democracy would only work if the class struggle in the country was sorted out. This has not happened, since this so called democracy has arrived the class struggle has become even worse with the elites becoming evermore rich and at the other end of the scale more people slipping below the poverty line.
Moving onto the elections in 1989 when Menem took over from Alfonsin, this was the first peaceful handover since the 1930’s. It shows how much more political stability existed at that time and again a good democratic turn. However, the law said that the same person cannot run for presidency again. When it came to the elections in 1995 Menem changed the constitution so he could run again for the presidency. This is hardly a democratic move. He had started ruling by decree, basically doing whatever he pleased. The public had no real say. R. Dahl wrote that democracy depended on a good set of rules that everyone abides by. Menem through this move and several beforehand, which I will go into later shows how, he was above everyone else. He could change the law with ease in order to suit himself. That is not a democratic way to rule a country.

One of the biggest factors stopping the country reaching and sustaining a proper democracy was the ever-present military. For a democracy to work, the government has to have a good control over the military and not let them sway ideas of the president through bullyboy tactics. In Argentina after a good thirty years of the military in power, they were never going to be content with their powers being toned down. This is what Alfonsin had to do, not only to try to reach a decent level of democracy but, which is actually also included in democracy, to get some justice for the human rights abuses that they had committed during the dirty war. Alfonsin was a true democrat but being the first real democratic leader after these problems with the military and them having been in power for so long before, he had an extremely difficult job to do. He had to base his democracy on the restoration of social and political rights. He changed a lot in the military in order to bring to justice the wrong doings of the dirty war. He cut their budget from 5.98% of GDP to 3.7% and in turn their salaries fell by 25%. He reduced the number of conscripts and they were not permitted to intervene in domestic conflicts. But the biggest, most democratic reforms that he made were to do with the judicial system. He decided that all members of the Juntas were to be put on trial. He made the reform that prosecutors were empowered to appeal decisions reached by military judges to civilian courts. This meant that many more cases were taken to civilian judges and so a fairer trial was given. A military judge would have been biased towards the junta, as he would feel a certain amount of loyalty towards him whereas a civilian judge would simply want a fair trial and to bring to justice what the Juntas did. In general, the civilians were given a larger say in military business. For instance they were given the top five positions in military defence and a civilian led National Defence Council.

These are all convincing changes made to the military and, in fact are democratic. It is possible to say then that at the beginning of Alfonsin’s reign, he was successful, implementing more democratic reforms in the armed forces. However in order to maintain this depoliticization of the Army, the economy had to be stable as well. This is where all the problems arose for the government to do with democracy. Alfonsin had turned down the austerity programs from the IMF and had tried to renegotiate the debt. Everything went wrong and inflation started growing. In 1985 he had to turn to the IMF’s Austral Plan, it helped with the inflation but the debt was becoming increasingly large. The middle and lower classes were suffering as they always did under these IMF packages. Strikes from the unions followed and in 1989 inflation was at an all time high of 12000%. Alfonsin had to turn to the military in order to keep everything under control. They were given more legal concessions. Their internal security role was reauthorized. They started gaining more political power and force again by the time Menem came in. This shows that as long as the country is under immense pressure from the north with their debt and the economy remains in a very unstable state, democracy is extremely hard to implement. The military are relied upon too much.

Menem took it a step further. He pardoned military in order to try and put an end to everything and let the people get on with their lives. He also needed the military, as he knew economic reforms would lead to social protest. This lack of freedom shows he had no real democratic tendencies. He needed the military to help him do as he pleased. Some retired generals were even appointed high up into his government showing the loyalty they had to Menem. A quote from General Luciano Menendez shows how the armed forces were really still running the country during Menems reign. “There is no possibility of a coup today, because today neither political forces, nor economic forces nor union forces are asking for it. And because what we began in 1976, Menem is finishing today.” It shows that the army is a silent force in Argentina. On the outside it seems that they do not have the power that they used to have but really they are running the country.

Politically and economically after the 1983 elections Alfonsin had the country’s best interests at heart democratically but he had too much to do. He had to choose between making the country a democracy, by depoliticizing the army or economic and social reforms. The country was crying out for justice from the dirty war which he start remedying but the economy had to be looked at as well so he had to leave the idea of democracy and military behind.

Menem’s reign is when it is possible to see more how far the country had to go to become a real democracy. The elections in 1989 went smoothly showing that there is a basic form of democracy there but if it is looked back on from now there were a few flaws. Menem lied to the people over why he should become president. From the start he was undemocratic. Not only, as said before over letting the military creep back in but also through some of his political reforms. For a start he was elected by saying he would help the poor by bringing in new social reforms and a rise in salaries. When in power he actually adopted more extreme neoliberalism. Extreme SAP’s were introduced. The poor then suffered more but he had the army to back him up. They had gone back to square one. The only difference being that he was an elected president with the military backing him. Politically he changed the Supreme Court. He increased the number of civilians in it from five to nine, the new people being followers of him. Anyone trying to take Menem to the Supreme Court therefore had no chance of winning their case. This meant that he was basically free to do as he pleased during his reign. He also started bypassing congress and ruling by decree. The congress is made up of civilian representatives. Bypassing them means they have very little say in anything. This meant that any law he wanted would be passed very easily, for example as written before he changed the constitution so he could be elected again. He had all the main power in Argentina and so was free to do as he pleased. These reforms of Menems were highly undemocratic. He was in fact elected again as inflation did go down a lot and he appeared to have the economy under control. People were scared of this huge debt and so he played on these fears. No one wanted the inflation to go up as much as under Alfonsin. Menem had brought it down to 9% growth per year. People wanted to keep this.

In the introduction I stated that Argentina was by no means a democracy. I still believe this and it is not possible to compare it to democracies in Britain or the United States. It is a different case in Argentina altogether as they have the constant problem of the debt and inflation rate. The country cannot suddenly decide that it should be a democracy as there are many factors involved, which are directly affected by this debt. The military will only stay quiet while the economy is relatively stable and there is no real political strife. There are constant problems in both politics and with the economy in Argentina, which is why the military are a constant threat. Alfonsin was in a very tough situation and in the end had to bow down to the military, as the economy was so unstable. Menem simply let them back in gradually. It is a vicious circle as you cannot have military intervention in a democracy, yet in order to keep the economy stable and everything under control, to an extent they are needed. The political reforms of Menem were very undemocratic but inflation was kept under control. The country was basically a democracy for the elites. They had a say in most things and most things in turn helped them. The poor had no say and in turn suffered immensely. Therefore apart from elections, which is a huge step considering before 1989 there had not been a peaceful handover since the 1930’s, the country very much remained undemocratic. In order to reach a working democracy they have to lessen this debt as at the moment everything is based around this.

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