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UN report finds Latin Americans have crisis of confidence about democracy

UN report finds Latin Americans have crisis of confidence about democracy

Latin Americans are deeply suspicious about the benefits of democracy after a quarter of a century of moves towards elected civilian government, according to a new United Nations report, whose results Secretary-General Kofi Annan described today as very sad and wrong.

The report, Democracy in Latin America: Towards a Citizens' Democracy, was launched today by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Lima. It noted that just 43 per cent of nearly 20,000 people polled in 18 countries across the continent fully supported democracy. Almost 55 per cent said they preferred an "authoritarian" regime over a "democratic" one if it could "resolve" their economic problems.

Since 2000, four elected presidents in the region were forced to leave office before the formal end of their terms after suffering steep falls in public support.

In a video message to the launch, Mr. Annan described the crisis of confidence in democracy in the region as "very sad. More important, it is wrong. The solution to Latin America's ills does not lie in a return to authoritarianism. It lies in a stronger and deeper-rooted democracy."

He said Latin America had taken great strides in the past 25 years, removing numerous authoritarian regimes and also combating inflation, reducing child and maternal mortality, and attracting greater foreign investment.

The average Electoral Democracy Index - which measures democracy according to the right to vote, fair elections, free elections, and elections as a means to public office - in Latin America improved from 0.28 in 1977 to 0.93 (out of a maximum rating of 1) in 2002.

But Mr. Annan noted that crime rates remain disturbing, poverty is widespread, especially among indigenous communities and those of African descent, and economic growth is low.

The report's authors recommend States try to build a new legitimacy, where citizens feel they can exercise their full rights, and for making sure that solutions to problems are pursued within democratic institutions, and not outside.