VOL. 4, NO. 5, PGS. 46–55


Distrust of Government is Necessary
A Look at Representative Democracy in Argentina
Enrique Peruzzotti

Enrique Peruzzotti is Director of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the Torcuato Di Tella University and Independent Researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina (CONICET). He is also co-editor of Controlando la política: ciudadanos and medios en las nuevas democracias latinoamericanas.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.

The process of democratic consolidation inaugurated by Raúl Alfonsín’s electoral triumph in the 1983 elections that put an end to the military dictatorship was profoundly marked by processes of innovation and political learning that gave birth to a renewed democratic political culture. These transformations gave rise to a rich public debate about the nature and scope of democratic representation and broadened the repertoire of citizen demands and forms of politicisation. What was the main novelty introduced in 1983? The revaluation of the protective function of the institutions of constitutional democracy. In a country where much of the political dynamics of the twentieth century had not been contained through constitutional channels and where political struggles often took violent forms, the emergence of a social demand for constitutional legality by significant sectors of civil society that actively promoted a culture and politics of rights represented a healthy renewal of Argentina’s political tradition. In all of this, the human rights movement was a central actor, which emerged to expose and publicly denounce the systematic and massive practices of human rights violations by the military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983, and which resulted in the kidnapping, torture and death of thousands of Argentine citizens.

The beginning of a new political culture

The human rights discourse was not immediately accepted by public opinion or by the main social and political actors in Argentina. During the initial years of the dictatorship, the movement’s demands had little echo in a society withdrawn due to the dictatorship’s cancellation of public space. It was only in the final years of the dictatorship, and in a climate of greater liberalisation of public space, that the new political paradigm of human rights would find receptivity among the citizenry. Human rights policy became one of the main axes on the agenda of the new democratic administration led by President Raúl Alfonsín. In this sense, the historic trial and sentencing of the military juntas was a watershed in the country’s political history. To paraphrase Karl Marx, this episode constituted the original act of accountability that endowed the nascent democratic institutional order with a new form of legitimacy predicated on the notion of limited government. From that moment onwards, the presence of the demand and politics of accountability has become inescapable in today’s democracy.

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