Killing Your Way to Power: Drug Violence in Mexico’s Defeated Democracy

On its face, it would seem that the most substantial challenge to a democratic Mexico is the rampant violence generated by organized crime. In 2011 alone, the number of drug-related homicides shot to 16,600 (Schedler, 6). Unbalanced and inept strategies toward combating the violence, as well as a disinclination to prosecute those responsible for killings, only encourage the situation. When cases of blatantly drug-related homicides go unprosecuted, the government is sending a message that these people can kill with virtual impunity. . Key data point: the incidence of homicide, which as of 2012 stands at 24 per 100,000 people – a shocking figure by all accounts (Flores-Macías, 129). The “criminal insurgency” exhibited by the competing forces (cartels) is met by the government with brute force uninformed by actionable intelligence, bringing the country to what some academics describe as a state of civil war (Schedler, 7).

It could be said that democracy in Mexico is alive and well – meaningful debate is had, elections held, and political parties exist. The essentials all seem to be in place. But when non-state actors can act freely and violently, any legitimacy and authority that the State ostensibly possesses is effectively undercut. Herein lies the greatest threat to democracy in Mexico, what Schedler calls “societal subversion”: when cartels prevent the State from doing its main job of protecting citizens, then democracy has failed, no matter how freely and fairly elected such a government has been (Schedler, 11). He makes the argument that the state abides the oppression of its citizens, “whether by commission or omission” (Schedler, 11).

The available data on rate of prosecution of violent crimes – effectively zero – amounts to a license to kill. Another measure, media freedom, is hampered by aggression against media workers; kidnappings, bombings, machine gun fire on media outlets. In some cases, this control has escalated to control of news sources, an undemocratic feature if there ever was one. These measures, coupled with the political interference that cartels have been well known to take part in, amount to a stifling of the “spirit of democracy” – the State takes on an almost farcical quality in its ineffectuality (Schedler, 11). Any legitimacy it possesses is snuffed out. Not altogether surprising when there are forces operating on a violence-first basis. Municipalities across the country bear witness to gruesome violence, mutilated corpses in the street, senseless kidnappings, and more. The effect is clear: leave enough bodies in your wake, and fairly soon people will learn to stay out of your way.

Soldiers guarded a display of weapons seized in an operation against the Gulf cartel, which operates in Mexico City. Mexico is desperate for the United States to do more to stop the steady flow of weapons over the border.

Soldiers guarded a display of weapons seized in an operation against the Gulf cartel, which operates in Mexico City. Mexico is desperate for the United States to do more to stop the steady flow of weapons over the border.

Has Economic Growth Helped or Hindered Democracy in Brazil?

Although Brazil has expanded its presence in world markets and has steadily improved its macroeconomic stability since 2003, it is one of the weaker performers of the group. Brazil’s economic development in the last half of the twentieth century has been full of successes followed by a series of economic stagnation and decline. The Brazilian government played a great role in the country’s economic development. By being a “protectionist economy” (Sharma), the government is failing to provide the people with better economic conditions that can ideally be of even greater help to the people’s standard of living. These failures have caused a great gap in wealth distribution and economic inequality among the people; factors that are almost always the cause of societal discontent towards the government. The economic downturns caused by the government’s poor spending choices and reform policies has hindered the development of an effective democracy in Brazil.

In the past decade, the Brazilian government introduced big measures to protect local industries and businesses as well as trying to protect the people from economic turmoil. Employing protectionist methods such as high interest rates, a welfare state, high import tax, raising local taxes and protecting firms is actually hurting the Brazilian economy. The government’s “addiction to state overspending” is largely responsible for this (Sharma). A lot of money is being spent on the social safety net and not enough on local infrastructure to improve transportation, especially for farmers. And in order for the government to fund the growing safety net, social spending was increased from 20% in the 1980s to 40% in 2010. The government initiative Bolsa Familia was primarily responsible for the rise of millions of people from extreme poverty, but welfare spending can be cut and money can be allocated for other public service goods that are in need of improvements. The tax raise, which accounts for 38% of the nation’s GDP is the highest among emerging-market countries. The tax burden is already too high in comparison to other counties on the same level of development. It leaves less money for businesses to invest in training and technology, leading to slower efficiency. I have linked an article that talks about the burdens wracking the economy.3

Many Brazilians have complained of the lavish spending in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Instead of the money being spent on the needs of the people and society as a whole, the funds are being directed towards a small group of people, the athletes. More than a million people gathered in protest against corruption, the spiraling cost of the World Cup and to demand better public services. A protester complained, “We’re in a country where the money doesn’t go to the community, and meanwhile, we see all these millions spent on stadiums”.1 Public service such as rising bus transportation fares was a issue of discontent among many commuters and members of the working class. Although President Dilma Rousseff sided with the protesters and her popularity isn’t threatened for reelection, it is her own policies that have stoked inflation. Around 30 million Brazilians have risen from extreme poverty and escaped the middle class, but “most are still one payday from disaster”, as one article describes, and will fight for the provision of better living standards from the government.2

The government faces the challenge of meeting increasing social needs, especially after high inflation and low growth. Society is urging for better public services, such as healthcare, education and transportation, aside from local infrastructure, to promote economic growth. Social unrest will only grow if the government applies methods that do not satisfy and only worsen conditions. Without exhausting resources, the government must end protectionism, and attend to public needs by redirecting funds towards priorities. If the political agenda is shaped towards a more stable economic standing for the people, it will lead to more social participation and equality, and can greatly improve democracy in Brazil.




Economic Influence on Democracy in Brazil

Brazil is one of the top emerging markets in the world and its wealth relies on exporting many natural resources. Recently, the demand for these natural resources has declined and Brazil’s economy will fall if measures are not taken to expand and improve economic growth.

In Ruchir Sharma’s article, “Bearish on Brazil”, he compares China and Brazil’s methods of growth. China also has a large market however it took a different approach in growing its economy than Brazil utilized. China was very open to possibilities of global trade, resulting in low export prices as well as low value of the yuan. Brazil took a cautious approach with their economy and focused on the protection of their citizens rather than expanding productivity and growth. As a result, prices of goods in Brazil are extremely high and expansion is very slow.

Brazil has the ability to distribute wealth more equally among citizens and spend more on educational systems. Brazilian schools have the lowest attendance rate of any middle-income country. However, Brazil is corrupt and instead large amounts of money are spent on things such as the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, both of which have lead to protests. In the article “Brazil’s Ebbing Tide”, written by Matthew Taylor he justifies the protesters attitudes. He said, “In sum, the protests, disgust with corruption, and apprehension about the World Cup that have dominated Brazilian media coverage for so much of the past year are in many ways a reflection of the upper-middle class malaise,” (Taylor 62).

Taylor’s article does not mention the additional costs now being spent on the Olympics. In the article attached at the end, Stephen Wade discusses the spending of the World Cup in addition to Olympic games and the issues it has caused regarding President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity. He also touches upon the very current Petrobas scandal that adds to President Rousseff’s dropping in popularity.

As mentioned previously, economic growth in Brazil has given it the opportunity to practice a democracy. The corruption the country is currently facing tampers with citizen’s rights and until that changes the economy will continue to fall and the President will lose support. The textbook written by Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph sums up what measures need to be taken to solve Brazil’s problems. They state, “Policy-makers must find better ways of adjusting policy to the needs of a larger economy and a society that demands decreasing levels of poverty and inequality,” (KKJ 368).


Although Brazil’s turn to democracy began in 1946, populism was the political order. In the years to follow, Brazil experienced a rise of Bureaucratic Authoritarianism and state-led economic development, both of which stimulated the country’s economy. In Lula da Silva’s term of office, he expanded public expenditures on infrastructures and industry as part of his plan for the Acceleration of Growth; and improved growth, higher median incomes and decreased inequality (KKJ 366-367). In 2010, Lula handpicked his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

Brazil’s economy has seen tremendous growth and success after the introduction of its own currency, the real, in 1987. In the decades to follow, we can see that there has been an improvement in income inequality and after the trauma of hyperinflation, Brazil has made a growing commitment to building a greater welfare state. The country has been a member of the world’s top emerging markets, known as the BRICS, but has unfortunately become overly dependent on their commodity products, making them a high-cost, commodity-dependent economy. In “Bearish on Brazil”, Sharma Ruchir discusses how the country has placed itself into a situation of stunted growth because of its inability to take more risks and open up the economy. Ruchir suggests that Brazil should spend less on its welfare state, simplify the tax code, broaden the tax base and modernize its inefficient pension and social security systems.

Michael Taylor in “Brazil’s Ebbing Tide” describes the country as currently being in a ‘funk’ as of result of escalating street protests, corruption scandals, frayed policies and economic worries. Taylor believes that Brazil needs more done in areas like healthcare, education and in its institutions to improve democracy in the country.

President Dilma Rousseff, who has just been sworn into her second term of office, was quoted in a New York Times article saying, “The Brazilian people want even more transparency and more combat against all types of crimes, especially corruption…and they want the arm of justice to reach everyone equally. I’m not afraid to face these challenges” (Peres). Her reelection into office does come with wary eyes just because this could, more or less, be considered a trying time for Brazil, with “a scandal at the state-run oil company, a moribund economy and less congressional support for her governing coalition” (Peres).

I do think that economic growth has hindered the growth of a stable democracy in Brazil because the country has yet to establish for itself a stable and functioning economy. With great concern that Brazil is not making the necessary changes to its imports and exports, economic growth will be on the downturn. Democracy, as Shumpeter puts it, is the ability for a country to have free and fair elections. Brazil has yet to elect a leader that has had to go against a strong opposition. However, in the New York Times article linked below, President Rousseff is ready to “to fight graft and end impunity for the rich and powerful” (Peres). With a stimulated economy, democracy can be seen in a better light. If she can help improve and make the necessary changes needed for there to be a sustainable economy, there will be better hope for a stable democracy in Brazil.

Has economic growth helped or hindered democracy in Brazil?

An economic boom occurred in Brazil during the reign of the military government from 1964 to 1985. The military government implemented the state-led economic development program. The program promoted economic growth through government policy and infrastructure projects. This period of economic growth caused a major imbalance socially and financially. During this military regime, substantial economic growth negatively impacted the well being of Brazil’s inhabitants. However, according to the Bureaucratic Authoritarian system of government, civil rights was not of concern because it was run by the military. We have previously defined bureaucratic authoritarianism as limiting civil rights and other political freedoms.

An important critical juncture to consider for this topic on economic growth and democracy is that after about 21 years of military dictatorship, Brazil returned to democracy (KKJ p.364-365). Ruchir Sharma describes in “Bearish on Brazil,” a ‘vicious cycle’ that Brazil has created over time that will negatively impact the economy. Brazil relies heavily on exports of oil, copper, iron ore, and other commodities. The government tried to mitigate financial burdens by increasing wages; however, this action forced employers to increase prices even more. The argument Sharma makes is based off Brazil’s Constitution that was passed in 1988. The Constitution guarantees free health care and university education. Sharma’s suggested solutions are to spend less on Brazil’s welfare state, simplify the tax code, broaden the tax base, and to modernize pension and social security systems in order to redirect the spending to education, research and development, and infrastructure projects. I think Sharma displays a clear argument that Brazil has the capability to make their economic growth benefit more citizens than just the middle and upper class. Currently, Brazil’s economic growth is influencing economic and democratic demise because no stability is present.

Matthew Taylor in “Brazil’s Ebbing Tide,” also deemed Brazil’s economic growth to create havoc. Violence and corruption are common themes in Brazil. He argues that the Brazilian ‘democracy’ has not been able to protect societal well being. Taylor discusses legal system issues as well as vote-buying corruption. The judicial system favors citizens who can afford lawyers while the poor are unjustly tried. Taylor believes Brazil needs social and institutional reform because basic health and education needs and a fair and just judicial system are in order to uphold a democracy.

The economist article I posted below shows that Brazil is improving over time especially because police and prosecutors are gaining the ability to do their jobs correctly. I think that economic growth in recent times has acted as a catalyst for the Brazilian government. As we discussed in class, Huntington’s arguments of legitimacy of the government and a form of international climate could describe economic growth as influencing change. It is evident by the protests that the citizens are not pleased with the government and opinions are circulated in this way. The economic growth is helping democratize Brazil through gradualism. In accordance with Sharma’s suggestions, I believe the means are there to direct money to providing basic necessities such as water, as well as health care and education. Once that is in order, the citizen’s basic rights will be upheld and democracy can pursue.

I posted a second article related to the thoughts about the government during the World Cup 2014. This quote in particular shows the inadequacy of the government and how money needs to be redirected to benefit democracy:

“If we win the government will use it as an opportunity to say what a success it has been and to mask all our problems.” – a hotel worker from Rio de Janeiro

Does a Transition Away From an Authoritarian Regime Always End in Democracy?

After reading Samuel P. Huntington’s “The Third Wave”, I personally do not believe that democracy is always born after an authoritarian regime has declined. As he stated, there is a constant shifting of emphasis on either democracy or authoritarianism around the world. This wave that Huntington refers to in his article does not flow just one way. Although he does state that democratic tendencies can translate into democratic regimes, he also makes sure to state that the wave he refers to is “..transitions from a nondemocratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction” (Huntington, 15). What I want to highlight about this quote is the fact that a democratic wave, or change, is defined by democratic ideals outnumbering authoritarian ideals. So while there may be a sense of democratization in some authoritarian societies, the push to democracy must be overwhelming for there to be a strong shift to a democratic regime. Even if a state decides to try its hand at a democratic regime after an authoritarian one, there can be falsities and corruption, as Huntington points out.

One example of how a decline in authoritarian ideals does not automatically lead to a democratic regime are the changing ideals in China and its economy. This can be expressed in the article “How China Is Ruled: Why It’s Getting Harder for Beijing to Govern” by David M. Lampton. Over the past 20 years, China’s economy has grown exponentially, slowly changing into a somewhat capitalist economy. Lampton describes these new Chinese companies as looking like “Western companies”. These new companies and ideals in the China’s economic market stray from the communist economics that were found during the Mao era of China. Another question facing this issue is will a liberal economy and a conservative political system be able to coexist?

While this article does touch on some issues that China’s authoritarian regime is facing, it is not necessarily saying that China will completely adopt a democratic system. It points out important points about the changing times in China, such as an increased presence and importance placed on the public opinion. This idea of a relationship between the people and the government is one of the main ideals behind the foundation of democracy. But while politicians in China are beginning to have a dialogue with its people, it does not and is still far off from having the institutional guarantees put forth by Dahl. Like we have discussed in class, China has utilized the authoritarian regime for so long that it is difficult to imagine China completely democratizing. Especially since China’s economic system has been fairing so well under an authoritarian regime.


You can find the article here:

The Road to Democracy

The transition to democracy can often be a messy process that is not easily explained. In “The Third Wave: Democratization of the Late Twentieth Century” by Samuel Huntington, the transition to democracy is outlined in three waves focusing on the significant amount of democratization after the year 1974. He argues that often the explanation for such transitions remains in the level of economic development that country experiences; also citing declining legitimacy of authoritarian regimes as a main factor as well.

Huntington follows the theory proposed by Lipset that economic development in fact correlates with democracy. The question remains whether economic growth instigates democracy or whether it only plays a role in the endurance of a democracy. The evidence brought forward by Huntington hints that it appears to plays a large role in both, but that seems to not be the case in many countries around the world.

For example in Tunisia, the poster child of the Arab Spring, the transition to democracy was anything but smooth, but compared to its neighbors Egypt and Libya it remains a success story for the modern transition to democracy. With the aid of the military, the Tunisian people ousted an oppressive authoritarian regime of Ben Ali in 2011. The economy in Tunisia was by no means rapidly growing before the revolts of the Arab Spring and still is not experiencing an influx of economic development, but yet there remains a healthy democracy.

Recent elections in Tunisia have led to an opposition party victory from the Ennahda party that gained power in 2011. The transition of power from one party to the opposing party remained relatively peaceful. Democracy remains stable in the hands of its new government. Unemployment is rising, but not necessarily the threat of a return to an authoritarian regime. Tunisia is a prime example that economic development and democracy do not always correlate and one can in fact exist without the other.


Does a transition away from an authoritarian regime always end in a democratic system?

The transition from an authoritarian regime to democratic system is a demanding task. I believe that the transition away from an authoritarian regime does not always end to a democratic system. Huntington explains there are many variables to consider when discussing why a country transitions from one regime to another. All of these variables push and pull each other to explain the democratization in a country.

It’s impossible to peg one reason for the change. When looking at transitions, Huntington pointed out several patterns, one called “the second-try pattern”. This pattern goes through steps. First an authoritarian system shifts to a democratic system. Next, Huntington explains, “the democratic system fails because the country lacks the social bases for democracy, or the leaders of the new democratic system pursue extremist polices that produce a drastic reaction”(42). After the failure of the democratic system, there is a return to an authoritarian government, for period of time. Over time however, with a second effort to change into democracy they find more success, learning from their previous mistakes.

I couldn’t help but think that this is a similar pattern that Egypt is facing today. Consequently I looked at a New York Times article in dated November of 2014 called Rubber-Stamp Assembly Expected From Egypt Vote, anticipating the parliamentary elections. Egypt was under authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak, who resigned due to a lack of support from the military, amounts other various reasons. After Mubarak’s resignation, the Egyptians then held an election where they elected Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. After a single year of presidency Morsi was ousted by Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who is currently the president of Egypt. Thus the possibly first failed attempt to transition democracy seen with the second-try pattern discussed by Huntington.

However, Egypt’s transition is still developing, but at this point a second try at democracy, to follow this pattern discussed by Huntington, seems far fetched. We are at a point where Egypt has tried and failed once, but a second-try at democracy seems far off. Perhaps, with the case of Egypt they have tried and failed, and now returned to an authoritarian regime with no thought transitioning back to democracy.

Do Transitions Away from Authoritarian Regimes always End in Democratic Systems?

After reading the first two chapters of Huntington’s book The Third Wave, and the introduction of Levitsky and Way’s book Competitive Authoritarianism, I do not believe a transition away from an authoritarian regime always end in a democratic system.

When answering this question, one must first define authoritarian regime and democratic system. According to Huntington, “the central procedure of democracy is the selection of leaders through competitive elections by the people they govern” (6). Additionally, Huntington defines authoritarian as “all non democratic systems” (13). Meanwhile, Levitsky and Way define democracy in a “procedural-minimum conception”, and believe a democracy must possess “a reasonably level playing field between incumbent and opposition” (6). Additionally, they define full authoritarianism as “a regime in which no viable channels exist for opposition to contest legally for executive power” (7).

Huntington writes that since 1828, the world has seen both democratization waves and reverse waves. Given the names, one can imply that during democratization waves, there was an influx in countries forming democratic regimes, while during reverse waves, authoritarian regimes gained control. He writes, “democracy had come to be seen as the only legitimate and viable alternative to an authoritarian regime of any type” (58).

I disagree with Huntington’s statement; I think transitions away from authoritarian regimes can lead to what Levitsky and Way call competitive authoritarianism. According to them, competitive authoritarian regimes are regimes, “in which formal democratic institutions exist… but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage” (5). Levitsky and Way agree with Huntington that there was a fundamental challenge to authoritarian regimes after the Cold War, but they believe that after the authoritarian regimes collapsed, transitions did not always lead to democracy. Instead, they believe new regimes emerged which possessed varying degrees of authoritarianism and electoral competition. Levitsky and Way stressed that although, the competition was real it was also unfair. To them, if a country holds elections where the incumbent possesses a significant advantage over their real competition, it is not a democracy.

The article I chose was from the New York Times written by Thomas Friedman titles Democracy in Recession. During class we have talked a lot about how democratic regimes around the world are declining, and I believe this article provided a nice complement to our class discussion. Friedman references a democracy expert named Larry Diamond. According to Diamond, there are various reasons for the decline in democracy. Three of the top reasons are; fast learning and adaptable autocrats, China, a non democratic country, replacing the United States as the top foreign aid provider to Africa, and the decline in democratic “efficacy, energy, and self-confidence” (1). So, the next question could be when a democratic system ends, what type of regime emerges?

Are Political Leaders as Influential as We Thought?

When thinking of a President, Prime Minister, Dictator, King and Queen, etc. we tend to think of them as the highest authority figure for that country; historically they pass and enforce laws, negotiate with other countries, wage wars, and sign treaties. They are the men and women who run that country day-in and day-out. However, I, along with the authors of these readings, challenge those thoughts of a superior ruler and instead supplement them with an economic argument.

Democracy has been seen to endure in many countries due to a vast and growing economy. Many factors play a role in the formation, enhancement, and decline of democracy; these include, but are not limited to income, economic growth, trade relations, national GDP, and GDP per capita. We can see statistically in Treisman’s piece that the economy of a given country is proportional to the stability of a countries’ political system. We also hear from Inglehart and Welzel’s article that “today, it seems clear that the causality runs mainly from economic development to democratization.” We can conclude from Inglehart and Welzel that economic growth and stability supports a system of democracy. Treisman would agree, but not fully…

Treisman took a different look at democracy with in a given country. He, like many, looked at economics first, but was then able to tie in national leader’s political longevity and agendas to create statistical analyses that depict political leaders affect on democracy within their country. What he concluded was that “structural factors such as economic development shape political regimes, but not immediately… their effects are ‘switched on and off’ by the contingencies of leadership.” I agree with Treisman, the democracy of a country is determined by both economic factors and also by the political leaders agenda. He mentions how reactionary autocratic leaders can prolong not only economic development, which leads to democratization, but they also try to extend their tenure. Treisman argues that political agendas made to extent a leader’s tenure actually move the country into a more democratic system, which allows for the more democratic incumbent to take power.

In conclusion, I have found that political leaders have little to do with the stability of their democracy, but rather are riding a wave of economic growth. When that wave crashes they are left to flounder in attempts to hold onto their tenure, and by doing so they move their country further into democracy.

I chose an article from The New York Times article about the U.S opening relations with Cuban, which highlighted some key points about the gradual economic development of Cuba. They hinted at the Fidel Castro Regime, which caused a great divide within Cuba and how his fleeting attempts for a dictatorship was met with an even stronger, more democratic group. This more democratic group has grown and is now a major reason why the U.S is restoring Cuban relations.