It may be that democracy is a risk in Argentina, although Nancy Soderbergh really fails to make that case in her LA Times Op-Ed. It may also be that making friends with Hugo Chavez is a bad thing, even when he gives you lots of free stuff. But I think I can assert, without qualification, that Argentina’s position on loan repayment has absolutely nothing to do with its status as a democracy.
It’s worrisome that many Latin Americans seem to be looking for strong leaders who will make the trains run on time — even if they have to break the rules to do so. That’s a dangerous brand of populism because leaders who are willing to flout international norms are also likely to trample over domestic rules.
The Bush administration should press for a negotiated settlement with Argentina, but it also must make it clear that the patience of the international community is not limitless. The IMF should hold up future loans to Argentina if it fails to negotiate in good faith. And, absent an improvement in Argentina’s actions, the United States should consider whether such a wealthy country deserves the special trade benefits that will come up for renewal at the end of the year. Kirchner must understand that any alliance with Chavez will be costly. The new Argentina-Venezuela axis should serve as a wake-up call to President Bush. Democracy is at risk in Latin America.
Yes, taking a position that is wildly popular among all segments of the Argentinian electorate and that has rewarded its enactor with 70% approval ratings certainly IS undemocratic, don’t you think?
The problem here is that values conflict. It is not, remarkably enough, in the (immediate) interests of Argentina (conceived in a realist sense or in reference to domestic politics) to pay back all of its loans. That an Argentinian government takes a hard line against international lenders has nothing to do with the presence or lack of democracy. Obviously, there are and always have been serious tensions between democratic governance and the liberal international economic order. A government responsive to its electorate may engage in activities that are detrimental in some sense to the economic order, even assuming (for the moment) that the structure of the international economy is basically one of cooperative amity. The decisions of the Bush adminstration to adopt steel tariffs and to maintain agricultural subsidies may be bad and problematic, but they weren’t undemocratic.
…I think it’s fair to note that most democracies do follow rules and procedures on the international stage that could be characterized as counter-majoritarian; this is, in a sense, the “embedded liberalism” that John Gerard Ruggie wrote about. However, this doesn’t so much relieve the tension as reveal it, demonstrating that participation even in the liberal international order requires the compromise of certain democratic principles.