Continuing their analysis of the reality of Latin American and the Caribbean, the bishops turn to the “sociopolitical dimension, ” an analysis which I find rather optimistic.
They first treat what they call “authoritarian regimes” in paragraph 74.
The Latin American bishops meetings in Medellin Colombia in 1968 and in Puebla in 1979 took place in a time when many Latin American countries were ruled by right-wing dictatorships in which torture and disappearances were common.
The 1992 meeting in Santo Domingo took place as changes were taking place which resulted in the end of civil wars in El Salvador (1992) and Guatemala (1996); The previous decade had witnessed some major changes: Chile’s dictatorship had ended in 1988, Brazil’s in 1985, and Argentina’s in 1983. Problems still remained in Haiti, Perú, and several other countries but democracy was becoming more common in the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Thus the bishops at Aparecida can speak of “a certain democratic progress which is evident in various electoral processes.”
Yet they express some concerns about the political situation of “populist” regimes.
However, we view with concern the rapid advance of various kinds of authoritarian regression by democratic means which sometimes lead to regimes of a neo-populist type.
I may be mistaken but I believe that at least some bishops were thinking of the populism of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Their Bolivarian socialism sometimes put them in conflict with the bishops of their countries. Concern with “neo-populism” is sometimes code for opposition to the style of democracy of Chavez and Morales, as well as Correa in Ecuador and Zelaya in Honduras.
Even if this is not the case, the bishops note the importance of “participatory democracy.”
This indicates that a purely formal democracy founded on fair election procedures is not enough, but rather that what is required is a participatory democracy based on promoting and respecting human rights.
But the bishops fear that democracy can become a dictatorship, not respecting human rights.
A democracy without values, such as those just mentioned, easily becomes a dictatorship and ultimately betrays the people.
This reflects Pope John Paul II’s stance on democracy. As he wrote in Centesimus Annus ¶ 46:
As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.
Pope John Paul II also reflected on democracy in his pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae. In paragraph 70, he wrote:
Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a “system” and as such is a means and not an end. Its “moral” value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, this is to be considered a positive “sign of the times”, as the Church’s Magisterium has frequently noted. But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the “common good” as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored.
Thus, for the Latin American bishops, as for Pope John Paul II, democracy must be based on values, including the promotion of life and human rights.