Latin America is diverse and complex, but one important commonality is that its democracies are relatively young and fragile—they are still in the process of being built. This presents a striking opportunity for Latin Americans to learn from each other and shape their future. Alerta Democratica (“Democratic Alert”) is intended to provide the necessary regional perspective.
For this transformative scenarios process, we first established the fundamental themes by conducting 65 dialogue interviews with key leaders across sectors in 14 Latin American countries. From that group, we then convened a team of 37 from 13 countries to develop several possible futures for democracy in the region. The finished scenarios were launched in four countries in September 2015 to significant media coverage, following our most comprehensive communications effort for any project to date. Launches in five more countries are planned.
The scenarios offer a common language and a focal point for reflection, discussion, and action. What do Latin Americans want from democracy? What can each country learn from the experiments, the successes and failures, of the others?
“This tool is useful and it’s serious and it’s needed,” says scenario team member Rossana Fuentes-Berain, founder of Start Up Mexico Media Lab S21 and the journal Foreign Affairs en Español. “The original dream of democracy has been turned to nightmares many times. We need to keep trying. I see a lot of potential in our region. People think the fact that we speak the same language means we understand each other, but that is a lie. We must be willing to learn how to speak to each other.”
Alerta Democratica was led, designed, and facilitated by Reos Partners and supported by three foundations that all share a concern for the region and saw the potential benefits of a dialogue on democracy: the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and Fundación Avina.
Among the encouraging trends seen across Latin America are regular elections and new forms of social participation. But democracy is far from assured—thus the “alert” in the project’s name. Serious structural and political threats loom: crises of representation, vulnerable political systems, corruption, high levels of violence and criminality, persistent inequality, and fundamentalism.
The four scenarios of Alerta Democratica explore how democracy in the region could evolve—for better and for worse—between 2015 and 2030. Over the course of three workshops, the scenario team considered these core questions:
- How will democracy affect the distribution of power, wealth, and justice and the way they are used?
- Will broader, deeper, long-term democratic dynamics shape these relationships and outcomes or will short-term electoral needs lead to a prioritization of marginal changes at the expense of structural redistribution?
- Will democracy demonstrate that it can deal with the problems of the region?
- Will the understanding of democracy in Latin America be broadened beyond formal electoral mechanisms of democracy?
- Will we discover new institutional architectures?
- Will new technologies help enable new democratic mechanisms and shift state-society relations?
Four scenarios for democracy through 2030
The team—which included academics, policy makers, public servants, youths, indigenous peoples, activists, businesspeople, and people from the media, religious institutions, and foundations—created four scenarios for democracy in Latin America through 2030 (details here):
- Democracy in Transformation: Widespread reassessment overcomes structural inertia in some countries, with democracy becoming stronger and more representational through institutional innovation.
- Democracy in Tension: Democracy in appearance only. Political and economic power are concentrated, disputed, and marked by patronage and authoritarian tendencies.
- Democracy in Mobilization: Popular mobilization, pressure, and creativity challenge traditional power structures and renew the democratic model.
- Democracy in Agony: A hijacking of democracy by organized crime leaves citizens feeling fearful and defeated. Corruption is a way of life, and the region as a whole is unstable.
Joint action and new perspective on regionalism
An extensive project evaluation report confirmed that the scenarios were received as highly relevant to the key issues facing Latin American democracies today. The report was based on interviews with scenario team members and questionnaires distributed at workshops and launch events, as well as an independent evaluation consultant’s observation of the whole process.
The report showed that the scenario process did indeed help participants to comprehend the regional context. It also revealed a broadening of perspectives, mutual appreciation of diversity, and joint actions. Among the scenario team, there was a high level of ownership of the scenarios, and a high level of fluency in presenting and discussing them.
In another measure of the success of the process, two scenario team members are now developing national scenario processes for their countries.
Significant media coverage
The launch events received significant media coverage, especially in Bolivia and Honduras. One of the first signs of the scenarios’ relevance, and of the hunger for dialogue, was more than 2,000 “likes” at the Alerta Democratica Facebook page within two weeks of the project launch.
Extensive resources for dissemination
To facilitate dissemination and discussion across the region, the Alerta Democratica website’s library offers downloadable guidelines, a brochure, and a slide presentation, in addition to the full scenarios report and a synthesis of the 65 dialogue interviews. Anyone can use them to host a dialogue, or to incorporate the scenarios into an educational program or strategic planning.