Great Leaders Vs Great Institutions

While strong leaders are absolutely necessary for peace, stability and growth of a nation, institutional governance structures are all the more necessary for long-term gains!


Most of the Latin American countries were led by iconic leaders. They brought prosperity and peace but lasted for a decade or a few decades. On the contrary, many of the North American countries have been led by democratically-elected leaders through strong Institutional structures. While leaders passed away, institutions continue to gourd the social structure. This calls for the south American countries to gain from institutionalising Governance Structures than depend on individuals.

The press release was released from the office of Venuzuelan President Hugo Chavez, which said that he would be undergoing an operation on June 10, 2011 to remove an abscessed tumour with cancerous cells. The world was left stunned and speculations were being made on how long the 57-year-old Chavez would continue and who would be the possible successor!

This has led to a very relevant debate on Latin American leadership and its future. Interestingly, Latin American states have mostly been led by iconic leaders, statesmen and politicians. Hugo Chavez himself is one Venezuelan leader who attracted enough international attention with his Bolivarian ideology and bold leadership. From the ranks of an ordinary military officer, he went on to become the 56th President of the state and is ruling since 1999. Similarly, a press operator in an automobile parts factory, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became the 35th President of Brazil. He served Brazil for two terms from 2003 to 2010 with dignity and pride during which Brazil gained immense prosperity and prestige. He has been widely recognised as the most popular and influential Latin American political figure. He was often described as “a man with audacious ambitions to alter the balance of power among nations.” The third iconic figure who fortified Latin American politics is Cuban Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. He not only served Cuba as Prime Minister during 1959 to 1976 and later as President during 1976 to 2008 but also saved Cuba from US imperialist aggression, and he is recognised as one of the world’s greatest leaders.

But this has created problems for them too. Latin American states have always struggled to find their rightful successors. Thus, even though many assumed rightly that Raul Castro would be the successor to his elder brother in Cuba, there were ambiguities and speculations after Raul’s health problems in 2006.

The story is quite different in case of United States. While South America was led by popular leaders, North America was always led by leaders elected through the institution of democracy. Thus, US succeeded in establishing stronger institutions rather than just leaders. In US, leaders are held accountable unlike in Latin America, where leaders have emerged and stood above institutions. More importantly, when power is institutionalised rather than individualised, there is always a replacement/successor in place of the premier.

That is why Latin American states have a higher probability of facing trouble during transfer of power. This also gives enough reasons for states like North Korea as well as Russia to be concerned. North Korea was ruled and led by Kim Jong II since the 1980s. His authoritative and dictatorial command didn’t create many options as successors. Similarly, Russia has been run by Vladimir Putin since the 1990s. Even though Medvedev is virtually leading the state, actual power is still in the hands of Putin. In such a situation, if Putin were to vanish from the scene, it will invite political crisis.

These states can learn from China’s example as well. A communist state, China – rather than run on the whims of an individual – is being run by the Communist Party of China since 1949, which has a clearly defined planning process. This gives China stability as well as flexibility in leadership change and transfer of power within members of the ruling party and national leadership.