By Gustavo Gamallo (for Safe Democracy)

Gustavo Gamallo says that after a decade with an agenda dominated by issues related to economic reforms, Latin America is placing in the foreground the political activity again. However, according to Gamallo that is not enough: an active, conscious and responsible citizenship must be built, capable of plural participation in the political debate and of developing its potency in the public scenario.

Gustavo Gamallo is a sociologist specialized in social policies. He is professor at the University of Buenos Aires, and he was the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Network for Democracy (2003-2005).

THE “DEMOCRACY IN LATIN AMERICA” REPORT, published by United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has the virtue of placing in the center of the debate the problem of the policy of building democratic societies.

After a decade with an agenda dominated by issues related to economic reforms and technocratic lines of argument, the placement in the foreground of the political activity must be considered as a relevant contribution.

Based on the citizenship concept of T.H. Marshall, the report points out those Latin American democracies have gone no further than having valid electoral procedures, what means, ensuring the benefit of the political citizenship, extraordinary fact from a historical perspective. Nevertheless, such democracies have expressed an inferior capacity to guarantee both civil and social rights.

Even tough the abuses that the military regimes spread over people’s life, security and property are in the past, the increasing feeling of civil insecurity and impunity obstruct the emergence of what liberal doctrine understood as individual rights, that area of individual protection inviolable by institutional and “de facto” powers.

On the other side, the symbolic and material privation of wide contingents, revealed by important phenomenon as unemployment, poverty and lack of basic services, shows the limited improvement of social rights. The usual answer to solve these lacks is the discretional use of institutional resources by the political authorities, which limit the individual autonomy. The subsistence of authoritarian and hereditary characteristics in the performance of political power are contradictory with the shapes of a democracy based in the Constitutional State, and at the same time, they do not contribute with the appropriation of the political activity by the citizenship and its associative complex (political parties, movements, social organizations, unions, etc..)

The continent is at a moment of notorious political change. Governments elected by enormous majorities reject a relevant number of accurate ideas which led most of our nations towards aggressive economic reforms which, in general, aggravated the inequality conditions. Despite those coincidences, it is difficult to be regarded as an homogeneous movement: more precisely, it is possible to consider it as a change of time, a change of paradigm, summarized by the lazy expression of “turn to the left”, where political forces, government styles, careers and ways of intervention meet, which with difficulty could be sheltered by the same ideology.

Some evidences of the regional political process seem to show that the deficiencies of the civil and social component of the citizenship are the tension points. The discursive path -towards the solution of the serious social problems- is under the risk of going over the potential autonomy and the individual rights.

If there is a special characteristic of the current political debate about what qualifies some current experiences as “populists” or “neo-populists” is, indeed, that feeling construction which states that the struggle against inequality, poverty and exclusion is enough justification to leave the political activity in hands of some, and to assume that the institutional rules are obstacles of the powerful in order to keep the poor away from their happiness.

It is not possible to build solid democracies without reinforcing the capability of the citizens to produce their own destiny, not to ensure the satisfaction of the collective needs without the democratic participation of the persons concerned. No option to be considered as progressive, may overlook the necessity to build an active, conscious and responsible citizenship, capable of plural participation in the political debate and of developing its potency in the public scenario.