Ecuador has the second lowest level of trust in democracy among 18 Latin American countries. The Chilean social research center, Latinobarómetro, says that Ecuador and other countries showing diminished trust in democracy are in danger of accepting non-elected authoritarian governments.
According to the Latinobarómetro survey, support for democratic regimes peaked in 2010 at 63 percent, declining to 49 percent by 2020.
The countries with the highest levels of support for democracy are Uruguay (74 percent), Costa Rica (67 percent) and Chile (60 percent), while those that least support it are Panama (35 percent), Ecuador (33 percent) and Honduras (30 percent). Latinobarómetro adds that informal data indicates that Chile’s support has declined significantly since its research ended and is probably below 50 percent today.
Overall, 70 percent of Latin Americans said they were dissatisfied with their governments, a mark well above that of 2017 (58 percent), while only 25 percent said they were satisfied with their government.
“The distrust for democratic institutions and practices was already in serious decline before the pandemic but it has increased as a result of it,” says Marta Lagos, the director and founder of Latinobarómetro. “The countries where there is a public perception of corruption in government are obviously the countries where the public shows the least trust in democracy. In many cases, however, the perception and the facts are not always in alignment.”
Besides corruption, the unequal distribution of wealth, lack of good jobs, poorly financed public education and social services contribute to public distrust, Lagos says. “Even in countries with leftist and center-leftist leaders, there is the belief among much of the public that a small elite control the economy and the mechanisms of government. People believe that this elite has unfair control of things like the labor market and the banking system.”
Marcela Meléndez, chief economist of the United Nations Development Program, agrees and says fundamental change is needed to shore up support for democracy. “The rules people live by are unfair is most of Latin America, in some cases reflecting attitudes and practices that go back to colonial times.” One place changes should be made, he says, are in the laws and rules that govern the electoral system and political campaigns, many of which favor old wealth and the economic establishment.
Meléndez warns that conditions favor the rise of populist governments that often advocate extreme measures to correct perceived injustices. “These are not exactly coups d’états but they representent movements on both the right and the left that promise rapid and fundamental change. We have seen this is Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, as well as in Honduras, Guatemala and Paraguay.”
He continues: “Almost inevitably, these movement fail, creating more distrust and new populists come along to fill the void, often with even more extravagant promises, and a vicious cycle continues.”