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Latin America's democracy crossroad

Democracy looks strong, but it will be put to the test.

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Latin America's string of successful elections from late 2005 to early 2007, accompanied by the greatest region-wide economic boom in decades, instilled justifiable feelings of pride and optimism about the state of democracy in the region.

However, in this new era of uncertainty, democratic institutions will be put to the test. The effects of the global economic slowdown are already visible in most countries in the region. As Latin America prepares for the new challenge, what is the state of regional democracy?

The results of the 2009 edition of Freedom House's annual publication, Freedom in the World, illustrate once again the relative strength of freedom and democracy in the region. On our scale, 25 of the Western Hemisphere's 35 nations are classified as "free." Nine more are in the "partly free" category, and only Cuba, despite slight improvements in 2008, remains "not free."

Judging by the survey's results, however, democracy remains vulnerable in some important respects. Overall, the rule of law remains the area of gravest deficiencies. The unceasing violence in Mexico was certainly 2008's most lurid headline-grabber, but other countries – including Venezuela and a number of Central American and Caribbean states – also witnessed increasing crime rates.

In many states, corruption and lack of transparency also distort policymaking and remain a huge drag on improved state efficiency. Moreover, progress on correcting the social exclusion of poor and minority groups has been insufficient in recent years.

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