Only two countries in Latin America—Costa Rica and Uruguay—can be considered “full democracies,” according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study commissioned by BBC for Democracy Day on January 20. The report says that a majority of Latin American countries hold “free and fair” elections and are better ranked than their counterparts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, but democracy in the region has stagnated. The governments of Cuba and Haiti are the lowest-ranked in Latin America and are classified as authoritarian regimes.
The study assesses a total of six factors, including access to the polls, electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functionality of the government, political participation and political culture. Each country is evaluated on a scale of 0 to 10 and classified into one of four categories: full democracy, imperfect democracy, hybrid and authoritarian regime.
Nine countries (Chile, Brazil, Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, and Paraguay) are considered imperfect democracies, while six are classified as hybrids (Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). Imperfect democracies are characterized by weaknesses in governability, low levels of political participation and an undeveloped political culture. The division between “imperfect” and “hybrid” regimes isn’t clear, says London School of Economics professor Francisco Panizza, but hybrids are generally described as having substantial irregularities in elections, oppression of opposition parties and greater weakness in governance.
Democracy in the region has regressed since EIU’s study from last year—despite widespread democratization in recent decades—and a majority of countries are considered fragile. Risk factors for the region include high levels of violence and crime, drug trafficking and corruption. The greatest factors, however, are related to institutional fragility, social inequality and low levels of education.
There is no consensus on a strict definition of “democracy” or how to measure it, but the EIU study chose criteria that would provide “a stronger, broader and more solid definition [of democracy] outside of elections,” explained EIU’s regional director for Latin America, Irene Mia.
BBC Democracy Day takes place every January 20 to encourage debate on the role of democracy and its future. 2015 marks the 750th anniversary of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster and the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.