How Important is Good Governance (2009) in Latin America

goverance matters 2009

As history majors learn in classes pertaining to “developing” countries, the “Good Governance” studies provide pretty valuable insights into how a country’s government responds to six sets of criteria:

    § Voice and Accountability

    § Political Stability and Absence of Violence

    § Government Effectiveness

    § Regulatory Quality

    § Rule of Law

    § Control of Corruption

Debate will, of course, begin. Why are these the criteria? Does a country that does not have high rankings on this survey indicate depravity in their system? If they score low, does this indicate how the citizens view any given government? What other criteria could one add to make this more pertinent, less damning, or more realistic? What are judged “sound” policies? Does this survey favor neoliberalism (in terms of Latin America) or just condemn “big government” “socialism?”

These are important questions. Fortunately, the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project has withstood any sort of questions pertaining to how it creates and funds its research. Relying on both scholars as well as activists, the survey’s are an accurate representation of the government on the ground, if not always a beacon for answers or conclusions to what this information means. WGI are used to spawn development, as opposed to mere growth, in various sectors in any given country, either privately or governmentally.

Released last week, “Governance Matters VIII: Governance Indicators 1996-2008,” seeks to draw parallels between findings a decade ago to today. In interest here, Latin America. So, in general, quickly, and with little detail, how did Latin America fair? Keep in mind – score go from 0 to 100 percent; 0 being the worst, 100 the best.

(In the details below I am dealing with Latin American nations with an “Iberian” background – all the Spanish speaking countries and Brazil [sans protectorate Puerto Rico]. Also, keep in mind that Cuba will come in at the bottom in most categories. This is not to say it is least important and one should accept the revolution, but the assumptions already created over the years will not be extended to include Cuba, a country all its own, it has proven).


    Uruguay, along with Chile and Costa Rica, had the most consistantly high rankings in the WGI

    Uruguay, along with Chile and Costa Rica, had the most consistantly high rankings in the WGI

    Voice and Accountability

    In a trend that will continue, Uruguay is considered the most “consolidated” nation (democratically) and providing voice – to politicians as well as the people – and accountability are essential functions in a democracy. Costa Rica and Chile carry out the top three – each in the top ten percentile among the world. Panama and Brazil are close to the top percentile with El Salvador surprisingly at 50. The rest of Central America is in the 45 to 35 range, with Venezuela rounding the list with 30 percent.

    Political Stability

    Uruguay tops the list as well – and this is with three parties that have each won the presidency since returning to democracy in 1985. Chile and Costa are next. In a way, one would think Cuba would be high on the list, but, instead of being zero, comes in just below El Salvador, ranking about 47 percent. Honduras, where a coup happened last week, stood around 30. Surprisingly, the most instability comes from the Bolivarian Revolutionary countries: Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela – all dangerous close to the bottom; Mexico, Paraguay and Peru share the below 25 percent honors. But, closing out the list, Colombia is still seen, as it has been in past years, as the least politically stable country in Latin America – which speaks volumes of Plan Colombia and the reported fluctuations in the productions of drugs. In addition to the drug trafficking, the violence and internal displacement (which tops Iraq!) by the Colombian military contribute to la violencia lasting over a half-century.

    Government Effectiveness

    Chile soars above Uruguay and Costa Rica, who again round out the top two. Mexico is fourth on the list, and Colombia is sixth – despite their low political stability. Most of Central America has made improvements and appear in the middle of the list, although low on the international scale. The poorest effectiveness come from Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and last, Ecuador.

    Regulatory Quality

    Chile is judged to be the best nation in Latin America, in the top ten percentile, in terms of formulation and implimentation of “sound” policies that promote “private sector development.” Most nations (Uruguay drops nine places in this list) benefit from free trade agreements with the United States. After Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico Peru, El Salvador, and Colombia (soon) all benefit from official and unofficial agreements, like NAFTA or CAFTA. Obviously, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela (Cuba is last) close out the list because of their reluctance towards “free trade” – judged by WGI as not “sound” policy.

    Crowds for Chavez in February - yet, Venezuela scored lower than all of Latin America

    Crowds for Chavez in February - yet, Venezuela scored lower than all of Latin America

    Rule of Law

    Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica have the public’s confidence as well as their citizens inclination to abide by the law (it also measures police forces, courts and the likelihood of violence and crime). In a sad twist, after those three, much of Latin America drops to under 50 percent, with Venezuela closing the list with less than 10 percent. Much of Latin America remains below a 25, including most of Central America, Bolivarian nations and Cuba.

    Control of Corruption

    Of course, we all hear about the corruption of Spanish-Latin cultural traditions and the lax measures in Latin America when it comes to law. This is not the place to weigh the political cultures against our own, but according to the WGI, Chile and Uruguay place in the top 10 percentile. Not surprising, given the events in Honduras, the country ranked third to last – with about 20 percent – followed closely by Paraguay and, finally, Venezuela.



This is more complicated than just an attack against systems that bend the status quo – as the low rankings across the board for Ecuador, Bolivia, and especially Venezuela demonstrate. Discounting the “Regulatory Quality,” the low rankings for rule of law, corruption and accountability are troubling for any nation. Yet, one must be careful to write off Ecuador, Bolivia, and especially Venezuela. While this data has, and will, serve as fuel for the fires burning on the right in South America – it speaks to troubling trends continent wide.

Mainly, the low rankings in international terms. Discounting the Uruguay (older population, no indigenous workforce, less racial/class tensions), Chile (neoliberalism, transition from authoritarianism to democracy most successful), and Costa Rica (no national military, less class tensions), most of the Americas is gripped in muddled governments – trends that, to be frank, prove little.

Latin America has shifted to the left – even in Uruguay (and possibly Chile soon) – and these “trends” dating back to 1996 record the entrenchments of rightist regimes which placated the public’s fear of militarism by promising to be a candidate the military would approve of. Latin America sat in the international “middle,” if you will, during those years and it should be no surprise that it continues to occupy this place – despite many countries individual gains throughout the years.

Consistency is important, quality is important, development is important (see a great overview and understandable analysis from the Brookings Institute). Every nation should strive for the principals of the WGI (with possible quibbles on “Regulatory Quality,” although its general point must be heeded). That some nations bedeviled by the international media (Venezuela, say) do not live up the height speaks to both the issues of populism as much as it does to the entrenchment of the oligarchy and the struggles of swimming against the current. That the status quo does not aid in the Bolivarian nations in particular speaks to the troubles of this analysis – high scores indicate positive movements inside one nation, but the low scores speak to lack of human solidarity and aid, in the effort to lift the world up.

For, indeed, there is no one way to govern a nation.

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~ by Daniel on July 3, 2009.

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