Fitzgibbon Survey of Scholarly Images

of Democracy in Latin America

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The origins of the Fitzgibbon democracy survey date back to 1945 when Professor Russell H. Fitzgibbon, a UCLA political scientist, asked a panel of ten distinguished U.S. scholars of Latin America to rank the twenty Latin American republics according to a set of criteria that he felt would measure the extent of democracy in each of the countries. His criteria for assessing the strength of democracy, fifteen in all, encompassed the following describers:

 

1. An educational level sufficient to give the political processes some substance and vitality, which may be reflected in a popular ability to communicate and share a common political life while allowing for diverse interpretations of it.

 

2. A reasonably adequate standard of living and a sufficiently well-balanced economic life so as to enable the population to feel it has a meaningful share in the nation’s overall material yield.

 

3. A sense of internal unity and national cohesion to the extent that one can speak realistically of a psychological basis for claiming nationhood.

 

4. Belief by the population generally that their political system is mature, well functioning, and enjoys a dignified reputation vis--vis the international community.

 

5. Relative absence of foreign domination in the sense of external overshadowing, direct control, and/or manipulation of the national political and socioeconomic destiny.

 

6. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, public communications, etc., without fear of reprisals for the exercise of such freedoms.

 

7. Free and popular elections, impartial rules impartially applied, no voter intimidation, honest voting procedures.

 

8. Freedom of party organization, genuine and effective party opposition in a legislative arena that permits scrutiny and/or challenge of the executive branch of government.

 

9. An independently functioning judiciary, respect for its decisions, honesty in the administration of justice under impartial rules including the ability to effectively declare acts of the legislative and executive branches of government to be unlawful.

 

10. Governmental accountability for the administration of public funds, a general public consciousness of the problem of fiscal rectitude, and the relative absence of financial graft as a general governmental practice.

 

11. Social legislation, a general commitment to social (as well as political) democracy, the vitality of such legislation as applied in programs of sincere and progressive reform that go beyond the “paper stage” and really get put into effect.

 

12. Civilian supremacy over the military establishment. The latter specializes in national defense, maintaining domestic order. The armed forces are not normally the principal arbiters of the national policy destiny.

 

13 Reasonable absence from political life of ecclesiastical controls or religious duress. This means that the political system is not dominated by formally organized churches, or by informally constitutional spiritualists.

 

14. Professionalization of governmental administration in terms of training, a merit system, the relative absence of nepotism as a recruitment basis for public administrators, the relative absence of corruption in personnel management, de-emphasis of spoils system generally.

 

15. Local self-government that is genuinely responsive to local needs and not simply the repressive arm of a distant centralized command center. The degree to which local governments generally merit the respect of the populace (as agent “dispensers of satisfactions” that are popularly appreciated).