A common origin, several attempts to constitute, a reality that repeats itself, amidst dichotomies, along the Andes and the marine line. In Latin America, and even more in the South region, the historical and political root is one. The Hispanic colonization, with the subsequent plundering and resources extraction, and the configuration of a power scheme that was kept after the independence and the emancipation, at least political, that the continent went through in the19th century, is a common factor of undoubtable weight in the explanation of the current scenario. On the other hand, the dependence remained in the economical and productive aspect, while the social inequality was accentuated. Today, our continent wants to be a global main player and strives to raise as the actor that could be and wants to be. However, in the 19th century, the prospect was another.
The political genesis
The flame ignited by the French and the Americans lit the enlightened elites of the continent. Under the pretext of maintaining the autonomy while the Napoleonic Empire took over the European crowns, Latin America rose and fought for independence.
When the time came to create and ensure the institutional design, the eyes were set to the North. In Argentina, the Constitution ideologist, Juan Bautista Alberdi, didn’t hide his admiration for the system implemented by the federalists in the young United States of America: the republicanism with its division of powers, with the institution of the President and, especially, of the Capitol as the axes of negotiation and political practice under the watchful eye of the aristocratic judiciary, the ultimate site of Justice and good judgement.
In contrast, in our countries prevailed Simón Bolívar’s perspective, who had recommended that for times of crisis, when the main value to protect was the independence and the speed of decisions, the President should be like a “sun”, who, with autonomy and decision power, could quickly indicate the actions to take.
In the United States of America, when the federalists were debating, the issue of the role of the president within the system led the founding fathers to decide on a design in which the president was not who concentrated most of the powers. They sought, in Hamilton’s words, for an energetic president, who was more similar to the “Mayor of New York” than to the “King of England”. The parliament shouldn’t bend to his will: blocking, discussing and negotiating should be constant. The presidentialism, with the premise of division of powers, should be a decentralized system, with three powers oriented to collide with each other. This is a similar claim to the one that could be made in a current democracy with oiled instances of accountability, in which the powers of control had real intervention in each other‘s actions. In contrast with this project thought by the federalists, in Latin America prevailed the bolivarian claim, in which the president “is in our Constitution like the sun which, strong in the center, gives life to the universe”, as Simón Bolívar said.
Therefore, we could talk about an inverse presidentialism; a system which sought to curtail arbitrariness became one in which the executive power could intrude on the attributions of the remaining powers. This way of understanding presidentialism is evident in the despise for negotiation with the remaining powers in case of not having automatic consent. The presidency is the loot they all desire, so the greatest weakness also occurs in times of crisis, when it is difficult to count on the cooperation of the rest of the political arc to resolve it in a non-traumatic manner. This, for example, was demonstrated in 2001 in Argentina. De la Rúa, cornered by the economic crisis, deprived of the support of the coalition that had taken him to power, and with popular protests across the country, couldn’t appeal to the Congress, which was in opposition. The cooperation of those who also desire the great prize, the presidency, is not a rational act.
The other extreme
But the presidentialism vices do not appear only amid crisis. While politics have full media coverage and questions about representation are being made, the limits of the presidential authorities become blurred and a new power scheme is set up, with undoubted reminiscences of the caudillismo* that determined the power relations during the 19th century. The 21st century, on the other hand, began shaken by economical and political crises, product of years of mismanagement in both areas, degrading the social system and promoting a shift in the political scene.
The populism, this very Latin American genre, resurfaced encouraged by the parties crises and the emergence of strong leadership, in line with the recovery of the economies driven by the increase in the demand for commodities by the emerging economies. The party structures in crisis only saw weakened their ability to channel, add and represent the interests of the society.
In this context, with countries as Brazil, which is part of the new developed economies, but with high inequality levels, and other as Argentina, South America is, from multiple viewpoints, a phenomenon where inclusion is the greatest challenge. This year, we will analyze it in the SABF. We invite you to do it too and write your essays now that the application period is open!**