A sea change has occurred in Latin American politics. In most of the region, until the wave of democratization that began in 1978, authoritarian regimes were pervasive. Many democracies were short-lived, and many countries had experienced literally no taste whatsoever of democratic political regimes.
The situation has changed profoundly in the past quarter century. By 1990 virtually every government in the region had competitively elected regimes, and since 1978 democracy has been far more extensive and also more durable than ever before. In many countries democratic and semidemocratic regimes have survived despite poor social and economic performances and despite lengthy authoritarian traditions. In Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil, democratic governments withstood annual inflation rates that went far into quadruple digits. In El Salvador and Guatemala, countries with histories of ruthless dictatorships, consistent repression of the indigenous populations, and horrendous civil wars, warring factions signed peace treaties and established competitively elected regimes in the 1990s.
The capacity of elected governments to survive in the face of daunting challenges and poor social and economic performance confounds most observers' expectations – and considerable comparative and theoretical literature on democratization as well. Today, the scholarly community takes for granted that competitive political regimes have survived, but when the transitions to elected governments took place, few observers expected that these regimes would be able to withstand relentless economic crises such as those experienced in the 1980s, widespread poverty, egregious income inequalities, and other nettlesome challenges.