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Rethinking pacts : dealing with Pinochet in an altered world Burnside, Ross


Since the middle of the 1980s a scholarly consensus has built up around the purportedly positive role that "pacts" can play in Latin American democratic transitions. It has been contended that pacts, although an undemocratic route to democracy, may well ultimately have a positive role in establishing a democracy, and provide a positive model for other countries in the region to emulate. Today, however, there are signs that attitudes towards these pacted transitions may be changing. In recent years, pacts in Venezuela, Colombia, and Chile have collapsed or unraveled as a consequence of changing domestic and international conditions. The situation that has been left in the wake of these alterations suggests the legacy of the pacted democratic transition type may not be as impressive as was once thought. Observation of the current situation in these nations unveils a strikingly different picture than was painted in the initial literature on them. Far from pacts being beneficial to the future development of stable and effective democracy, what can be seen most clearly in these instances is a background of impunity, corruption, lack of accountability or responsiveness, and the distortion of the most basic features of polyarchy, all overshadowing a procedural democratic foreground. This study argues that the scholarship on "pacts" has some important flaws, yet has largely gone unchallenged. It also argues that some quite fundamental change has been, and is going on in the world today, and this change can have a crucial impact on domestic institutions. Combining these two ideas with empirical analysis from contemporary Chile and the Pinochet saga, I contend that it is time to rethink the consensus that seems to have built up around the notion of pacts in Latin America.

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