According to a recent survey, most Latin Americans don’t trust their governments and a growing percentage say they don’t trust the democratic process and democratic institutions either.
The Santiago, Chile-based research organization Latinobarómetro reports that 70% of Latin Americans say they are dissatisfied with their governments, a mark well above that of 2017 (58%). Only 25% said they were pleased with their governanments.
Researchers at Latinobarómetro believe that the Covid-19 pandemic is part of the reason for the disenchantment. “The trend of distrust was already underway before the pandemic but it has accelerated over the last two years,” says Marta Lagos, director and founder of Latinobarómetro. “The virus generated high levels of fear in the population, especially in countries with high numbers of infections and deaths,” she said. “Besides this, many of the health restrictions have been unpopular, especially among the poor population because it reduced their incomes.”
Latinobarómetro, which has measured public sentiment for 20 years, says support for democratic governments peaked in 2010 at 63% in Latin America and has declined steadily since then. In late 2021, support stood at 44 percent, down from 49% in early 2020, during the early stages of the pandemic.
The countries with the highest levels of support for democracy are Uruguay (74%), Costa Rica (67%) and Chile (60%), while those showing the least support it are Panama (35%), Ecuador (33%) and Honduras (30%).
Despite the low level of support for democracy, Latinobarómetro says that it is much higher than for authoritarian or dictatorial government. Support for authoritarian regimes fell from 15% to 13% from 2017 to 2021. Citizens of Paraguay, Mexico and Ecuador expressed the greatest support for non-democratic governments, at 18 percent.
In countries with the lowest support for democracy, the primary complaint was that a small, wealthy elite controlled the government and other institutions. They also claimed that services that benefited the population, such as public education and health care, were neglected and underfunded. In Ecuador, more than half of survey respondents believed that most government officials, including presidents, were involved in corrupt acts.
According to Lagos, several of the countries with low levels of respect for government experienced violent protests since 2019. “There were major uprisings in Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador,” she says. “An outlier, in terms of democratic support, was Chile where we saw the most violent protests.” She said recent elections there and the change from a rightist to leftist government is one of the results of those protests.”