Last month I co-chaired a seminar at Harvard Universitys Davis Center with Russian scholar Tatiana Vorozheykina, an expert on comparative Russian/Latin American studies. Her view of Latin America is more optimistic than mine. For her, Russia is less free because it lacks the kind of civil society that many Latin American nations enjoy, facilitating Putins pervasive control.
Last weekends detentions in Moscow and St. Petersburg of members of the Other Russia, an opposition organization that includes former chess champion Garry Kasparov as one of its leaders, are a reminder that Russia is a ruthless autocracy. Under Putins government, we have seen continued brutal assaults on Chechnya, the replacement of regional governments with centrally appointed cronies, the persecution of businessmen associated with opposition groups, the state takeover of privately owned giants in the energy sector, the muzzling of the broadcast media, the mysterious murders of journalists and spies, the suppression of street demonstrations and the initial moves toward the appointment of the presidents preferred successor.
With the exception of Venezuela, the authoritarian institutions operating under democratically elected governments in Latin America are not as bad as Russias. It is true that power is more decentralized in Latin America, where governments have not been able or willing to wrest back economic influence from the private interests that surfaced during the market reforms of the 1990s, and where the institutions of the state are too weak to suppress voluntary associations and civic activity.
If we compare Mexico and Russia, the evidence seems to confirm Vorozheykinas views. Mexico was also dominated by a party-state for much of the 20th century and underwent a process of reform in the 1990s aimed at fostering liberal democracy and privatizing a large part of the economy. Despite its many flaws, reform improved the political and economic environment. In Russia, liberal democracy never quite surfaced, and, according to Vorozheykina, economic reform did not amount to transferring assets from the state to the private sector but from private hands to private hands using the state trademark. In other words, the collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by the capture of the state by certain factions. Putin then reacted against the oligarchy of the 1990s by establishing his own oligarchy. By contrast, although there was much crony capitalism and the reforms did not exactly produce Jeffersonian checks and balances, Mexicos system is freer.
I would point out, however, that, with the return of populism to various parts of Latin America, a number of countries are headed in the direction of Russia, albeit with less geopolitical gravitas. The formula usually combines a democratic origin, the dismantling of republican institutions from within and reliance on natural resources that are in high demand in the international markets. Last Sunday, Ecuadorians voted in large numbers to essentially rewrite the constitution. In this, Correa, who wants to replace democracy with an authoritarian regime, is following the example of his friend Hugo Chavez and of Bolivias Evo Morales. And if Mexicos and Perus current governments do not deliver economic improvement, we could easily see populists taking over the reins of power there too.
There are differences of degree and the contexts vary, but Russia and Latin America are the products of histories dominated by the absence of civil rights and property rights. In Russia, all land belonged to the czar or the nobility until the 19th century; peasantsthe majority of the populationwere beholden to the state or to private landlords. Then the communists replaced the czar. The absence of a liberal tradition doomed the transition to liberal democracy and the market economy in the 1990sthence Putins Russia. In Latin America, the republics of the 19th century preserved the oligarchic structure of the colony. In the 20th century, they mostly experimented with populist democracy and military dictatorship, a less perfect type of tyranny than Russias communist systemwhich explains the emergence of what Vorozheykina calls a more vibrant civil society in Latin America.
Recent developments prove that the populist republic is not a thing of the past in Latin America. And the populist republicthe combination of democratic appearances and autocratic controls, sustained by the sale of oil and mineralshas much in common with Putins Russia.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
For further information, see the Independent Institutes book on wasteful farm programs, Agriculture and the State: Market Processes and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr.