Ecuador, Paraguay, and Honduras have each had at least one irregular power transition in the past decade. Given their histories, finishing a term may be more meaningful than democratic elections.
So three countries that have had one or several irregular power transitions in the past decade are all going to hold elections this year. An optimist might see these elections as a big win for democracy. Indeed, the fact that the hemisphere now expects a quick return to regular elections, even in the face of coups and quasi-coups, is a victory over the trends of decades past.
But democracy has its bookends in an election and inauguration on one side and a peaceful, normal power transfer while stepping down on the other. The ability and normality of handing off power to the next elected leader may be a bigger symbol of democracy than the elections. Given their recent histories, there should be doubts whether all three of the presidents elected will make it to the finishing point of their democratic term.
I'm sure various international organizations will send observers to the 2013 elections in these countries and declare them free and fair and wonderful victories for democracy in countries that have faced so many problems. Then those observers will leave and the real questions about democratic stability will begin.
Editor's note: The photo caption has been edited for clarity.