Is Argentina’s democracy in danger? – 07/30/2021 – Latin America21

Since the 2008 conflict, symbolic violence has started to increase in Argentina. There was a return to confrontation which resulted in the emergence of a series of expressions aimed at disqualifying the opponent and exacerbating the (pre) existing divisions in Argentine society. Terms of dubious explanatory power, but indisputably persuasive effectiveness, have emerged, such as the category of “disdainful” or metaphors like “the flaw” to describe conflicts and fractures that seemed (and some do seem) to have existed for years. time immemorial.


One of the great contemporary debates at the international level is undoubtedly linked to the crisis of democracy at the global level, as well as to the emergence of “illiberal” alternatives to democracy. In this way, the until recently inevitable and overwhelming advance of liberal democracy on a global scale has been challenged by new competitive alternatives in the first decades of the 21st century.

We would not be here in the presence of an outcome resulting from “retreat” or “democratic regression”, nor from the classic “collapse” or “rupture” of democracies resulting from the proliferation of civilian-military coups d’état between second and third democratic waves. . We are facing a slow erosion of democracy through a series of changes which, under the guise of legal procedures, undermine democracy in a process of increasing autocratization.

In this context, a political regime can be defined as democratic if it fulfills at least three basic conditions. First, a reasonably free, competitive and transparent electoral process. Second, an electoral result that relies on acceptance, or at least tolerance, on the part of the losers. And finally, it excludes the use of violence (physical or symbolic) in political conflicts.


Argentina’s democracy has shown broad signs of resilience over the past three decades, in the face of military crises between 1987 and 1990, economic crises in 1989/1990 and institutional and social crises in 2001/2002. All of these tests have been passed to some extent satisfactorily. At the same time, a long emergency cycle occurs from 1989 to today with some brief interruptions between 1999-2001 and 2015-2018. Argentina finds itself (almost) in a permanent emergency.

The return to democracy in 1983 was accompanied by the emergence of a set of political practices more aligned with a consensual style, even with a process of establishment of the new political regime characterized by the absence of consociation pacts between political elites such as those produced in Venezuela and Colombia in the 1950s or Spain in the 1970s.

The unity of the party in the face of the military uprising of Holy Week in 1987, the agreements which made the constitutional reform of 1994 possible, the experience of a quasi-coalition by Eduardo Duhalde and the formation of the Table de dialogue sponsored by the Catholic Church in the context of the social crisis of 2001/2002 are emblematic examples of a greater propensity for commitment, whatever the value judgment that these “unity in diversity” initiatives may deserve.

The conflict between a new government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and agricultural organizations in the first months of 2008 over Resolution 125 was a turning point, as it re-established a dynamic of confrontation which had been practically abandoned since the return to democracy in 1983.


Coming back to the definition of democracy and its fundamental attributes, the electoral process in Argentina is reasonably free, transparent and competitive, giving rise, in recent years, to competition between the two main electoral coalitions, Juntos por el Cambio and Frente de Todos.

This scenario, which develops at the national level, coexists with the persistence of sultanist or oligarchic-competitive regimes at the sub-national level with little or no alternation or possibility of effective rotation of political elites. The appointment of controversial figures such as Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla to the electoral justice of the province of Buenos Aires has raised concerns among opposition sectors about the necessary guarantees of the electoral process and its results.

Election results are based on the acceptance or, at least, tolerance of losers, although some situations have been observed which deserve special attention. The absence of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner at the presidential inauguration ceremony of Mauricio Macri has been read as a gesture of ignorance of the legitimacy of the 2015 election result. Warning sign on the breaking of consensus on tolerance for an unfavorable election result.

Despite these antecedents, the exclusion of the use of political violence, as well as the existence of a consensus around the need for a peaceful settlement of the political dispute, have been characteristics to be emphasized since December 10, 1983. However , the increase in discursive violence represents a threat to the consensus that has existed since 1983.


We face an uncertain future. Without danger of democratic regression or institutional collapse, but with a certain risk of autocratization, there is today an electoral context in Argentina with a weakening of the guarantees of transparency and impartiality, a decrease in tolerance to electoral results unfavorable, a weakening of the consensus on the exclusion of violence as a resource (for the moment only on the symbolic level) and the return of “prist fantasies” in the party in power.

These elements testify to a complex scenario for the development of Argentine democracy. However, our commitment is to maintain the pessimism of the intelligence, but at the same time, an optimism of the will.

* Translation from Spanish by Maria Isabel Santos Lima

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