Democracy and human rights in Latin America: Is democratic erosion gathering pace?

Briefing 11-01-2022

Since the mid-1980s, Latin America has enjoyed long and broad democratic expansion, and has made considerable progress with regard to free and fair elections and respect for human rights. As the 'most democratic emerging-market region in the world', over 80 % of the Latin American population enjoy democracy, a proportion surpassed only in western Europe and North America. Standards vary widely however: while Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile stand out in all classifications as the most free and democratic, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba remain at the bottom of the table. However, the tide may be turning for this successful 'third democratic wave' in Latin America, as many countries suffer democratic erosion or even backsliding. The progressive decline of democratic indicators in the region has been exacerbated by factors such as the self-interest of the ruling elites or rampant corruption in some countries, and may have been accelerated by the Covid 19 pandemic, which has justified the implementation of freedom-restricting measures and has facilitated human rights abuses. The human rights situation in Latin America and the Caribbean has indeed deteriorated more generally, with an increase in poverty, inequality, violence, and rising migration from the worst affected countries. The EU has contributed to democracy and human rights in the region by sending election observation missions, participating in initiatives such as the Colombia peace process and its implementation or in the creation of the International Contact Group on Venezuela, and financing projects. The European Parliament has meanwhile accompanied democratic developments and crises closely through its resolutions, the Sakharov Prize and other initiatives.