The July 23 news story “Latin America’s democratically elected authoritarians” oversimplified in describing Hugo Chávez and other left-leaning populist leaders in Latin America as “new authoritarians.” That lumps them in with the ruthless dictators, of which the region has seen too many.
Mr. Chávez (and others such as Evo Morales in Bolivia) may more usefully be seen as radical, majoritarian democrats who insist that the poor majorities of their countries should prevail against the wealthier minorities. Our conventional idea of democracy (usually called liberal democracy) allows the majority to vote but limits what it can do by protecting the rights of minorities. Radical democracy puts much less stress on minority rights.
If Venezuela’s long-standing liberal democracy (dating to 1958) had addressed the needs of that country’s poor majority, Mr. Chávez would now be an obscure retired army officer. If the United States had made it a priority to address those needs (as John Kennedy promised in the Alliance for Progress of the 1960s), we would not be worrying about the likes of Mr. Chávez today.
Radical democracy is inherently unstable because it depends on charismatic leaders such as Mr. Chávez to embody the majority and speak for it. But to use the word “authoritarian” to describe it just muddies the picture.
John Peeler, Lewisburg, Pa.