Elections can’t solve all ills

This year has seen many national elections in Latin America: in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Uruguay. And elections are scheduled in Colombia and Brazil, among other countries, in 2010.Some of these elections are historic — in El Salvador and Chile, for example — signifying major changes in political structures and alignments. Almost all are interesting, bringing into view new personalities with diverse, sometimes colorful backgrounds and/or testing the durable appeal of old stalwarts, parties and coalitions.Elections are worthwhile as a means of popular consultation and participation. They can and should also be important as a means of helping to achieve accountability, by comparing incumbents and their parties with the promises on which they were elected. Elections are important, and their regular occurrence in Latin America, rarely interrupted now by military intervention, is just cause for regional celebration. It is nonetheless important to recognize that elections alone — however free, clean and fair — are never enough to solve the hard questions that face most countries, questions often ignored or papered over during political campaigns. • Elections alone in Honduras will not help it overcome deep, widespread poverty and stark inequalities that shape that society and pervert its politics.• Elections alone in Argentina are not enough to help overcome its progressive deinstitutionalization and pervasive shortsightedness (cortoplacismo), qualities that have characterized Argentina for many years.• Elections in Bolivia cannot by themselves resolve the country’s profound dilemma: how to achieve greater equity, opportunity and justice for the long excluded indigenous populations while achieving the national economic growth on which greater economic integration and social welfare depend. • Elections in Brazil will not determine how the country can transform its striking international recognition into improved life chances for the many millions still stuck in extreme poverty. • Elections in El Salvador cannot by themselves transform an economic model that is too dependent on remittances, foreign aid and privileged market access, nor can they provide enough jobs for the burgeoning young adult population.• Elections in Colombia, whoever the candidates are, cannot by themselves end a debilitating, generation-long insurgency, nor rid the country of a culture of impunity.None of these brief comments are meant to minimize elections or their potential importance. But it is vital that our analysis of the region go beyond the horse races, the individual candidates and their campaign tactics. It is crucial for each country to confront its fundamental issues and challenges and to assure that these challenges are publicly debated in the campaigns and become central to the mandates of those elected.It is this viewpoint that animates the brilliant essay Un futuro para Mexico by Jorge G. Castañeda and Hector Aguilar Camín in the November Mexican journal Nexos.In 17 tightly reasoned and vigorously argued pages, Castañeda and Aguilar Camín set forth an illuminating and persuasive analysis of many of the unresolved issues that must be confronted if Mexico is to reverse its recent deterioration and achieve a more promising future.More than two years before the next Mexican presidential elections, Castañeda and Aguilar Camín have clearly defined the terms of debate for Mexico on such issues as economic policy and energy development, Mexico’s role in the world and its relations with the United States, social policy and the tough challenge of deeply entrenched inequlities and how to achieve effective democratic governance through political and electoral reforms.Their article is a model for the kind of honest and penetrating analysis, free of partisan parochialism, badly needed in many other countries of the region.Abraham F. Lowenthal, professor of international relations at USC, is president emeritus of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

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