Democratic Transitions and the Latin American Military

One of the main challenges to democratic state building processes in Latin America has been the enforcement of civilian control over the military. The introduction of a reform agenda for the armed services has been particularly critical for democratic forces in transitional periods. This process was delayed by the everlasting military reluctance to civilian democratic control and by the traditional disregard of military issues by democratizing coalitions.

Several studies have been trying to establish the main reasons why it has been so difficult to reach “civilian supremacy” and why military services are so reluctant to democratic government control, railing against key institutional reforms. The accumulated evidence shows that this reaction is the product of a singular combination of peculiar institutional traits and developments that differentiate military institutions from other state and civilian organizations, coupled with idiosyncratic national cultural and political conditions.

In this paper I will present and analyze the key elements that have been facilitating or preventing democratically oriented institutional changes inside the military in Latin America. The reception of a democratic reform agenda inside the barracks, advocated by a decisive civilian leadership, has been conditioned by the nature of the military institutions, their type of relationship with the rest of society, their level of autonomy, the existence or lack of a solid political and substantive leadership, and the changing set of their international influences. I will conclude with five action-oriented recommendations derived from this experience.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.