Election 2020

Latin America Has Given Up on U.S. Democracy

Regional coverage has focused on the prospect of all-too-familiar chaos.

A woman votes at a polling station in Montevideo during municipal and departmental elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 27.
A woman votes at a polling station in Montevideo during municipal and departmental elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 27. Eitan Abramovich/AFP via Getty Images

In Latin America, a region too often shaken by undemocratic elections, fraud, and street riots, U.S. elections used to set a clear path for the right way to do things. For years, the United States has been taken as an example—and has taken a strong (and in many cases questionable) hand in democratic efforts around the world.

But following the United Nations report warning of the steps needed in case of unrest after this year’s U.S. election, the change is clearer than ever: The United States is no longer a democratic exemplar.

On the morning of U.S. Election Day, the major media in Latin American countries, instead of reporting as they normally would on the implications of the outcome in their own countries, reported on worst-case scenarios. An article published by Infobae, one of Argentina's leading media outlets, talks of boarded-up stores, increased arms purchases, and possible "catastrophic scenarios," while El Observador, one of Uruguay's leading newspapers, blamed Trump and his rhetoric for the possible political violence expected after this election night. Latin American media is now covering the U.S. elections as U.S. media once covered Latin American elections.

In Latin America, a region too often shaken by undemocratic elections, fraud, and street riots, U.S. elections used to set a clear path for the right way to do things. For years, the United States has been taken as an example—and has taken a strong (and in many cases questionable) hand in democratic efforts around the world.

But following the United Nations report warning of the steps needed in case of unrest after this year’s U.S. election, the change is clearer than ever: The United States is no longer a democratic exemplar.

On the morning of U.S. Election Day, the major media in Latin American countries, instead of reporting as they normally would on the implications of the outcome in their own countries, reported on worst-case scenarios. An article published by Infobae, one of Argentina’s leading media outlets, talks of boarded-up stores, increased arms purchases, and possible “catastrophic scenarios,” while El Observador, one of Uruguay’s leading newspapers, blamed Trump and his rhetoric for the possible political violence expected after this election night. Latin American media is now covering the U.S. elections as U.S. media once covered Latin American elections.

Trump’s recent speeches, in which he has refused to say that he would accept a defeat, and the videos of riots shared and circulated on social media only support this notion—which the next days could prove all too true. It’s a chillingly familiar picture for Bolivia, which in recent years has experienced political transitions plagued by unrest and accusations of fraud, and for Venezuela, perhaps the best-known example of elections that, according to international opinion, lack the guarantees or security expected from a democracy.

Unless a smooth and peaceful transition ensues, the U.S. elections have the potential to worsen the already strained U.S. reputation in Latin America. Latin American democrats used to try to follow in the United States’ footsteps when it came to the peaceful transition of power. Now they’re edging away from the U.S. path as fast as possible.

Milagros Costabel is a visually impaired freelance writer and disability rights advocate living in Colonia, Uruguay.

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