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New Left Review I/154, November-December 1985

Edward S. Herman and James Petras

‘Resurgent Democracy’: Rhetoric and Reality

During the past year Reagan administration officials and the us press have pointed with frequency and enthusiasm to a resurgence of democracy in Latin America. Secretary of State George Schultz, for example, has spoken of ‘more people voting in more elections in more countries than ever before in the history of this hemisphere’; while Alan Riding, writing in the New York Times of 11 November 1984, expressed the new vision under the byline: ‘A Latin Spring: Democracy in Flower’. This spate of publicity fits excellently with public relations requirements. Urgently needing to counteract the widespread negative responses to its Central American policies, the Reagan administration has itself sponsored elections in delicate situations (El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala) as legitimizing projects, and asserted its devotion to democracy as a major reason for its anti-Sandinista policies. In relation to Nicaragua, however, Washington has suffered a number of setbacks: the 1984 elections resulted in an impressive victory for the Sandinistas; the Contadora initiative, now supported by Managua, has become a thorn in the side of us foreign policy; and the World Court’s ruling against the mining of Nicaraguan harbours has necessitated a costly rejection of its legitimacy. All the more useful, then, are press verdicts such as Alan Riding’s that ‘given the United States’ enormous weight in the area, the administration’s public preference for democracy proved influential.’ Beside the general resurgence of democracy, it is implied, such foibles as the overthrow of one or two small backyard defectors from ‘democracy’ can surely be overlooked.

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Edward S. Herman, James Petras, ‘'Resurgent Democracy': Rhetoric and Reality’, NLR I/154: £3

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