Saturday, February 27, 2010

Where democracy resides

It is not in Venezuela, it is in Colombia.

I just watched on TV the reading of the Colombian High Court ruling saying that the law to call for a referendum that would allow for a third election for Uribe is not valid because it did not follow the rules for its elaboration.  It is not a judgement on whether Uribe deserves reelection, just an observation that no matter what, a president is not above the law and he must follow the rules.  Now as I am typing this there is the Uribe reply, also on Globovision, which is a concession speech of sort, with his call to follow the rule of law and that he would work for Colombia no matter where he is.

Can you imagine this in Venezuela?  A court ruling against Chavez personal ambition?  Him accepting the ruling? Chavez might win boatloads of elections but democracy is not based on elections only as this historical moment for Colombia reminds us.  Democracy is only valid when the rights of the minority are preserved in their essential, not when the majority does as it pleases, roughing the other side with impunity.  Make no mistake: all polls in Colombia put Uribe ahead had he been allowed to run again, which makes this moment even more transcendent as Chavez now behind in the polls is desperately trying to establish a state where democracy would be lost permanently.

This creates a difficult situation for Colombia as the succession of a president as effective, as purposeful, as successful, is going to create an emotional void of sorts that cannot be filled easily.  But Colombia is a nation on the rise, with great institutions as we just could witness a few minutes ago.  It brings us in awe, from Venezuela, that the country with the biggest and strongest army of Latin America, with the most successful and steel willed president, with a booming economy in spite of a larval civil war, world crisis and the sabotage of Venezuela is able to send Uribe away just like that.  And Uribe accepts it rather graciously, though slightly choked.

Colombia does have the people to succeed Uribe: the candidates roster seems from here much better than what we could ourselves propose to replace Chavez.  The US will have one more  less excuse to postpone the FTA that Uribe can dedicate the rest of his term to get, as the great democrat of Latin America.  And, as this blog is already on record for, the best way for Uribe to have a shinny place in Colombia's history, to have avenues everywhere named for him because the people do want them carry Uribe's name, if for him to leave office now.  I would have preferred him to leave on his good will rather than been dismissed by the court, but if this is a blot on Uribe it is a gold star for Colombia's road to full modern democracy.


  1. Agreed. Uribe's speech opens the door to a successful transition of power to the winning candidate of this years election in Colombia. I suspect that Santos has the edge now to become president. If so, Chavez will have, once again, a nemesis next door.

  2. "Democracy is only valid when the rights of the minority are preserved in their essential,..."

    It is nothing short of a tragedy that so many otherwise bright human beings including the honorable Daniel have been conditioned to confuse "democracy" with liberty and the rule of law. It was the Athenian "democracy" that tolerated slavery and condemned Socrates to an unjust death.

    I beg any thoughtful and just person to read "Democracy, the god That Failed" by Hans Hermann Hoppe.

  3. leonidas

    and your definition of democracy is?....

  4. Anonymous6:07 AM

    What would have happened if Uribe never tried to legalize another reelection? Most likely, the issue would have been still unresolved. The next Colombian president, especially if it's some incompetent boob from one of the has-been parties, would be tempted to go the Uribe route and, depending on the right shakeout of the political and legal actors in the Colombian government, could have succeeded where Uribe did not and Colombia would then have another Chavez or Ortega on its hands.

    So, in a way, I'm OK that this was nipped in the bud before a true caudillo would be in a position to utilitze it. Still, I wish Uribe never attempted to have another reelection but at least the Colombian institutions have worked. Now it's a lot harder for any presidentialist system to emerge.

    Also, the Congress is another area to watch now that the Uribe era is coming to an end. There are still a lot of politicos who swore allegiance to Uribe. What happens with them now?

  5. I do agree with Daniel. The law and the constitution are in place precisely to prevent the "tyranny of the majority" from transforming a republic into what I fear Venezuela is becoming, a Dictatorship. The 3 powers must be divided and although I liked Uribe, as a Colombian I am glad that the court ruled in this fashion. Caudillos never do any good to anyone.

  6. 42342547:52 AM

    Democracy, liberty and the rule of law are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Liberal democracy is an example. "Democracy" does not mean "rule by the majority"; it means "rule of the people" (in fact, in Ancient Greece the majority was ineligible to vote). As a system, it was a designed as a counter to other forms of government where power was concentrated into even fewer hands (a king, a tyrant or an oligarchy ). Election "by the people" was an extension of election "by the king" or "by the council". It was though at the time, often rightly so, that the choice of a great number of persons would be less arbitrary and subjective than the decisions of a king or a small group of rulers. That doesn't mean that a "democratic" government would be incapable of unjust decisions and laws; just that on average they would be less arbitrary and less unjust. All political systems are conditioned by society, and this is especially so in democracy, where there are a great many outlets for society to express itself. In turn, because there are usually institutions with a monopoly of power, all governments are in a position to influence society. The difference is that, in a liberal democracy, it is easier for ideas to be expressed and pressure groups to be formed, allowing society to resist and counter government influence. public opinion is shaped and affected by different organizations and institutions, which toss ideas back and forth, some gaining ground, some not, some combining, some transforming. This freedom of speech and association can prevent any government from simply pushing its ideas on the populace, as an informed, opinionated and organized public is in a better position to resist, and can even influence government decisions.

    Now for democracy to work, there have to be other certain unbreakable guarantees, including, as Daniel mentioned, the rights of minorities to be treated equally before the law and not be oppressed by government decisions. Even "the people"(those who vote), like all kings and councils, need a counterbalance: that's what constitutions and human rights (including the rights to life, free speech and association) are. That's the true beauty of a liberal democracy.

    On the Uribe case, I do not think that suspending the second reelection attempt on a technicality is tantamount to proof of democracy. A truly independent judiciary would have scrapped it as contrary to the spirit of democracy and the Colombian constitution (an attempt to alter one of those necessary guarantees). The good news is that Uribe will at least leave office with largely flying colors, without the controversy of indefinite reelection hanging over his head. Perhaps that was the judiciary's way of letting Uribe and the initiators of the second reelection movement save face.

    Nevertheless, the Colombian judiciary is still more objective and balanced than ours. Ours' decisions are rarely distinguishable from Chávez's, and few judiciaries in the world have been such vocal advocates of the government branch they're supposed to provide counterbalance for. Disgraceful.

  7. Both a highly commendable and slightly worrying development. If there is a successful and seamless transition to a new president it would be a formidable win for democracy on the continent and further negative exposure and defeat for Chavez and Co. However it does open the way for considerable manipulation and mischief by the latter in the meantime. It will be helpful that the Brazilian elections will be occurring at about the same time; the contrast between these processes and what will be concurrently also taking place in Venezuela could be quite devastating for Chavismo's worldwide image -- as if it weren't damaged enough already.

  8. I have to agree with Daniel. Keeping in mind that he and I do not frequent the same political turf , this is notable. I m in full agreement with his statement, Leonidas... read it carefully. He said that democracy is only VALID when the rights of the minority are preserved. Not that democracy was the preservation of rights, for it is not; in raw form, it is a dictatorship of the majority. Daniel said that to be VALID, the rights of the minority must be protected, and they must, for if they are not, then the majority can rule against the minorty's participation in voting and voila! no democracy. A true democracy MUST, in its essence acknowledge limits on the power of the majority, in able to resemble (for more than one election) the will of the people.
    An excellent point, Daniel, and an excellent article. I am thankful for the Colombian people that Uribe is showing good grace following the Court's decision.

  9. "and your definition of democracy is?...."

    At the risk of appearing flippant through the use of a cliche: "Two wolves and a sheep voting on the lunch menu."

  10. leonidas

    yes, quite flippant, and dodging.

  11. In the long run,this decision is definitely a plus for Colombia, but now I can just see Chavez gloating that he is stronger and more " loved" by his people than his rival.He will claim to have triumphed over Uribe who was forced to abandon the contest.

    He will be using all his trickery and manipulations to gain the upper hand against Uribe's replacement.Uribe was in someways unique in knowing how to deal with Chavez's bluster by finding the right balance of confrontation and compromise.

    Uribe's replacement will have his work cut out for him.If it is Santos , he has the right political attitude, but will he have the great skill required to neutralize Chavez.

  12. Anonymous4:40 AM

    I fear that Chavez will send suitcases of money to Columbia to influence the election of the new president of Columbia. Hopefully this can be exposed and any candidate accepting Chavez dollars will lose big.

  13. 1. Daniel, this post shows your greatness not just in interpreting events, but also your gift in witty writing. This is like the New Yorker. Kudos. I'm not sucking up, just being honest that this is a great piece.

    2. Why is "two wolves and a sheep voting on the menu" flippant? It's true. True democracy is nothing more than 50.00001% rule. That's why it's insufficient. The talk about the need to protect the minority is excellent and true. But that's "democracy plus". I'm in favor of it. But plain democracy, whether you want to call it rule by the majority, or the people, it all comes out to 50+% can screw everyone else.
    That's not flippant. It's factual.

    We all agree that democracy+ is what we all need. (Well, maybe not all. The Chavistas may disagree). But let's not put too much faith in the definition of simple democracy, which means the majority, or people, or majority of the people (it's all the same pragmatically), they rule. Because if we're honest, the wolf/sheep metaphor is entirely accurate.
    Is anything I'm saying remotely wrong or illogical? If a country has 10 people and 6 vote to overly tax and abuse the richest 4, isn't that still "democracy"? If not, what do you call it?

    I think the greek's point is that "democracy" is used as such a sacred word, but it is insufficient. Not bad, but insufficient. It's a good start, but it's insufficient. We can all agree on that, no?

  14. I am sorry but I do not agree with some of the expressions or ideas used here. We cannot have a flexible definition of democracy and ignore how the term has evolved through contemporary history to what is commonly understood today.

    We understand democracy today as representative one, parliamentarian, constitutional monarchy or presidential. This implies that a democracy system is only democratic because those who are in the minority have a fair chance to be in the majority at some point. Thus it implies that minority essential rights are protected, at least those which will allow it to contest elections with a real chance to win if the campaign job is done properly.

    That does not mean you cannot nationalize business, or create a welfare state, or cut taxes to the bone. Or even create some policies that are basically irreversible, at least on Human Rights. It means that whatever social change you make, or even force upon the populace, this one will be able to vote out of office those who made the change if they so wish it without having to resort to violence.

  15. OK, sounds like we're on the same side but arguing over words and definitions. My passionate point is simply that "democracy" actually has an objective definition. And it is majority rule. The USA during slavery was technically "democracy," although it doesn't live up to our modern desires for democracy.

    But our desires don't get to define a word. Objective definitions do. You and I are on the same side here, so you don't even have to respond to this or post it. My only point is that advocating democracy is insufficient. We must advocate a democracy UNDER the rule of law and UNDER the understanding that human rights aren't up for a vote. If the international community were pro-democracy, they could still be pro Mugabe and Chavez and Syrian-whats-his-name. But if they were pro "democracy and guaranteeing the rights of the minority", then they couldn't be for the afore-mentioned rulers. So when people like you write about the virtues of democracy, some of us cringe because we think that is insufficient.

    That's all. I'm pro-democracy, AS LONG AS it's in a system that protects the minority and treats everyone the same and is subservient to human rights. I think you agree. We're just arguing on the technical definition of democracy. You attach other things to it. I don't. I believe in democracy with an asterisk, and your definition already includes that asterisk. And in the end we agree, even if we use different words. Am I right?

  16. One last point, at the risk of being obnoxious: You talk about how it must be IMPLIED that minority rights are protected. I'm simply saying that when using such important terms, there is no room for subjective "implication." It's better to say "representative democratic republic" than to just say "democracy" and assume that everyone understands what you're implying.

    Many don't. Better to be upfront and call it what it is, than to rest on implications that are supposedly understood. That's all. I just think the word "democracy" is incredibly insufficient. That's what this whole debate is about. You're comfortable with the fact that everyone understands the implications of that word. I'm not, and prefer more overt clarifications.

    But that doesn't diminish my respect for you and what you do. I know I'm nit-picking here on technical definitions. And Uribe should have never sought another term, since that's unconstitutional. And your analysis was brilliant. Really. Not just saying that.

    And lastly, a free trade agreement with USA is impossible so long as the left party is in control here. They represent first the labor unions, and second the trial lawyers. They will find an excuse to refuse it no matter how absurd it sounds. Viva Colombia, y q resucite Venezuela!

  17. Daniel,

    I believe you are missing my point. "Democracy" (δημοκρατία) is quite clearly and simply defined in various references as: rule by the people. As in lynch mob.

    The introduction of such concepts as human rights, justice and liberty are cultural and are not unique to democracy. That is, they can and have existed under all of the various forms of government. Use of the suffrage is merely a convenient and mostly peaceful method of determining how a government is to be administered.

    Absent the appropriate cultural underpinnings, a written constitution is little more than a scrap of parchment interpreted by hirelings of the central administration. For evidence of this fact, one need only peruse Chapter X of the Soviet Constitution of 1936 or the current situation in the US where the collectivists insist that the constitution is a "living document" subject to interpretation by (preferably) leftist judicial appointees.

    It would appear that for now Colombia is blessed with a cultural adherence to the rule of law.

    FYI, the US is not (yet) a "democracy". It is a representative republic which uses the suffrage as a means of selecting governing administrators.

  18. Sorry folks Leonidas and KS are mostly correct:
    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy…” – Sir Alex Fraser Tytler

    This situation is exactly what is unfolding on the global stage; especially in Venezuela and the US.

  19. I am sorry, I am not going to be dragged into a Rush Limbaugh like discussion on democracy. My point has been made and my post is about how much more democracy there is in Colombia than Venezuela.

  20. I actually CAN imagine a court ruling going against Chavez. The difference is that it would have been followed up by ignoring the sentence, firing the judge, and then having another court revisit the case and "get it right."

    It certainly has happened under Chavez, though (because of the reasons above) rarely. My favorite example (not because I like it, but because of its extremeness) was when a chamber of the TSJ overruled an earlier decision of the entire TSJ (I honestly can't recall the details at the moment, but it was about April 2002, and I think the Puente Llaguno shooting specifically) - without so much as an appeal, or any other legal proceeding which could have initiated it. Appealing to a LESSER body would have been a sham, anyway, though perhaps just a little less so than the actual sham. Imagine about 3 U.S. Supreme Court justices banding together and overturning, say, Brown v Board of Education, just because the President wanted it so.

    On Uribe, I'm not sure that this will be good for Colombia in the short term (I'll withhold that opinion until about 2 years after the next President takes office), but I do believe it's a good thing in the long.

  21. Flippant. Dodging.

    ...ha ha...just kidding. Your points are also well made, Daniel. I understand that a debate on "democracy" would be a further hijack of this post. So 'nuff said. There is more rule of law (I mean democracy) in Colombia.

    Think you'll ever reconsider your definition, though, or do a post on words like democracy?
    No answer requested. No more hijacking from me. Great post. Really.

  22. Kolya5:13 AM

    I agree with you, Daniel. The thing is that when most of us say "democracy" we usually mean "liberal democracy", just like (whether we like it or not) when people say "American" they usually mean "US citizen."

    In any event, the US, Canada, Spain, Chile, Costa Rica, Australia, France, Germany, among others, are liberal democracies, but in normal conversations it is perfectly all right to simply call them democracies--people are reasonable and they know you don't mean "tyranny of the majority."


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