In 2020, the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region experienced the combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic with ongoing economic deceleration and democratic fatigue. Governments across LAC have managed the health crisis with varying degrees of effectiveness and transparency, while the health crisis exacerbated pre-existing issues–such as weak governance and widespread inequalities. Massive demonstrations swept across the hemisphere in 2019 as citizens expressed dissatisfaction with elected populist leaders and lagging reforms, but the pandemic restrictions forced people home.
Region-wide disenchantment with democracy affected consolidated, functional, and fragile democracies alike, and LAC still harbors three notoriously authoritarian regimes: Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Furthermore, fragile democracies, such as those of Central America’s Northern Triangle, continue to struggle with the combined challenges of drug trafficking, organized crime, deeply-embedded corruption, and emigration. Human rights defenders, journalists, and environmental activists face ongoing threats from hostile governments and criminal actors. While providing connectivity to urban and rural populations, the growing digital space has joined the global trend of spreading disinformation and amplifying polarization. The region has also witnessed increased influence of outside players, such as Russia and China, that seek political and economic advantage.
In 2020, the LAC program at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) provided critical support to advance democracy in the countries under the most authoritarian regimes–Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Two transitional countries, Ecuador and Bolivia, offered important opportunities to revert previous authoritarian legislation on freedom of expression and judicial independence, and to encourage citizen participation in electoral processes. In the Northern Triangle, NED expanded anti-corruption, digital media, and human rights programs. NED reaffirmed commitments to the largest countries of the region: Brazil and Mexico, currently facing the menaces of right- and left- wing populist governments, respectively.
Through regional programs, NED addressed global challenges, such as the growing contamination of the digital information space, Russia and China’s influence, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on corruption practices. NED also supported human rights defenders and the rights of vulnerable minorities, while strengthening key democratic requisites such as free and fair elections and effective democratic governance.
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