Our primary empirical purpose in this book is to document and explain the long-term transformation of political regimes in Latin America. For this reason, Chapters 4 through 7 focused on explaining two opposite processes: transitions from authoritarianism and the breakdown of competitive regimes. Changes in the likelihood of these processes, acting together, account for the wave of democratization experienced by Latin America after 1977.
This emphasis on basic regime types prevented us from analyzing subtler transformations within the set of competitive regimes. Figure 4.1 in Chapter 4 identified two important changes within the family of competitive regimes: the deepening of semi-democratic systems into full democracy and the erosion of democracies into semi-democratic politics. Although less dramatic, these transformations suggest that democratization is a latent, continuous process and that levels of democracy may vary considerably even within the set of competitive regimes.
An analysis of the different levels of democracy achieved by competitive regimes is crucial to understand the evolution of Latin America in the aftermath of the third wave. This analysis is our purpose in this chapter. In the first section we show that, although all countries in Latin America except for Cuba have experimented with competitive regimes in recent decades, the level of democracy varies considerably among them. Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay have established what are fairly widely regarded as high-quality democracies, whereas many other countries including Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Venezuela today have significant infringements of at least one of the four defining features of democracy. Post-transition countries have followed different democratic trajectories, making contemporary Latin America a politically diverse region.