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Volume 51 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: COLOMBIA, VENEZUELA, AND ECUADOR


DAVID DENT, Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies, Towson State University

THIS REVIEW OF THE RECENT political science research on the three countries of northern South America reveals a number of important trends in social science research. Efforts to understand democracy and regime transition have generated more research attention on the role of the State, public policy making, the role of parties and elections, and the impact of external factors (multinationals, US and European foreign policy) on political development and social change. It is also encouraging to see more collaborative research efforts between Latin American scholars and their European and North American counterparts. Ecuador has been the beneficiary of scholars in exile from the Southern Cone who have brought methodological skills and theoretical ideas to bear on important research topics.

Growing interest in theories of regime transition has led some scholars to include Venezuela and Colombia in comparative research designs since they remained free of military rule while much of the rest of South America experienced a tormented period of ugly authoritarianism. The attention devoted to drug trafficking will no doubt continue to focus media and scholarly attention on the historical pattern of violence in Colombia.

COLOMBIA

The literature on Colombian politics in this volume is heavily influenced by drug-trafficking violence and government-opposition conflict in the Betancur and Barco Administrations. The quality of the literature devoted to various aspects of political life in Colombia is influenced by valuable contributions by Colombian political scientists as well as the ongoing research by North American scholars such as Bagley, Dix, and Hartlyn.

The question of coalition rule and elite domination is a continuing subject of research. Leal Buitrago (item bi 90011396) includes a valuable theory of the State along with a solid treatment of political ideology and the role of the military in dealing with opposition groups. Hartlyn (item bi 89000517) develops a regime-centered analysis of consociationalism and political conflict emphasizing key "middle-level" variables (parties, State institutions, interest associations, electoral structures, and political processes) in his important study. Dix (item bi 89001763) updates an earlier work on the political dimensions of change by devoting more attention to international linkages, policy making, and political history. In an important study of the power elite, Echeverri (item bi 90011392) documents a remarkable permanence among Colombia's elite, both in those who control the State and those involved in the private sector.

Political violence is a subject of investigation that seems to work its way into much of the political science research on Colombia. Bagley's The State and peasantry in contemporary Colombia (item bi 89001795) is an excellent monograph devoted to explaining rural unrest and guerrilla violence. The expanding role of drugs and its impact on the Colombian economy and polity continue to be focused upon. The Americas Watch Report (item bi 89003975) investigates the scope of the Colombian tragedy through an examination of the major actors: guerrillas, security forces, "private armies" linked to the armed forces, landowners, and the drug cartels themselves involved in the rapid deterioration of human rights. Massing (item bi 89003940) explains why it is almost impossible to fight a war against cocaine focusing on such international "solutions" as interdiction and eradication. Craig (item bi 88002491) offers an excellent treatment of the drug dilemma in the Andes and the policy complications in Washington. McDonald (item bi 89003451) examines the structure of the cocaine industry and narcoterrorism in the Andean States and Panama.

VENEZUELA

Parties and elections, the debt crisis, and democratization continue to dominate the research on Venezuela during the 1980s. The study of inter-party conflict by Ellner (item bi 90011401) and his major study of the Venezuelan left (item bi 89001776) provide important insights into the roots of conflict resolution and party history using the Venezuelan case.

The literature focusing on the transition to democracy throughout Latin America has also brought renewed attention to the structural and behavioral determinants of the process of regime transition using a comparative perspective. Karl's study (item bi 90011402) finds that petroleum is one of the key factors in shaping the structural determinants for a reformist political system such as Venezuela's, although she also maintains that petroleum and pacts may not be enough to serve as a model for others seeking a direct path to some form of democracy. A Venezuelan interpretation of crisis and collaboration is examined in López Maya's Crisis y concertación en Venezuela (item bi 89000550). Abente's review essay (item bi 90011399) is an excellent synthesis of recent works dealing with theoretical efforts to understand Venezuelan democracy in the 1980s. Argentine exile Eduardo Schaposnik (item bi 89001772) provides an excellent study of the rules that have governed civil-military relations in Venezuela since 1959. Salgado's study (item bi 90011408) of the role of economic pressure groups argues that the power of some groups such as FEDECAMARAS is often overstated in the literature on Venezuelan interest groups.

ECUADOR

The political science research on Ecuador is beginning to show signs of improvement from the previous decade. Both the quality and quantity of the literature show encouraging signs of research sophistication. The explanation for this change is rooted in three trends, mostly related to the constellation of events in neighboring countries. First, the election of conservative León Febres Cordero in 1984 generated more conflict (and interest) in civil-military relations, including the infamous Frank Vargas affair in 1986. Second, numerous scholars in exile from the Southern Cone are now producing sophisticated studies of the Ecuadorian political system. Finally, with the growing dangers of doing research in Colombia and Peru, scholars are now turning to Ecuador, where investigative research is less contrained by violence and a negative political environment.

Works of note devoted to the leadership and policies of Febres Cordero include Hurtado's examination of the battle for the "no" vote against the president's plebiscite (item bi 90011418) and the biographical compendium of cabinet officers and provincial politicians (item bi 90011414) that gives interesting insights into the workings of Ecuadorian politics at the national level. Gill (item bi 90011417) attributes the strains in civil-military relations during the mid-1980s to the misguided domestic policies of the president.

With the return of democratic rule, electoral studies are now beginning to fill a large void in the study of Ecuadorian politics. Darlic Mardesic (item bi 89001760) provides a valuable source for examining voting patterns (1978-87), as does the companion effort by Juan León (item bi 89001784) dealing with parties and elections.

The turmoil generated by the conservative economic policies of the Febres Cordero Administration and the collapse of oil prices also produced an increase in human rights abuses. Fellner (item bi 90011416) finds the human rights violations during the Febres Cordero Administration alarming, often contributing to serious strains on the democratic system. Further details can be found in the report by the Fundación Ecuatoriana de Estudios Sociales (item bi 89001781). The quality of political science research on Ecuador has not reached the level of scholarly activity in Colombia or Peru, but important progress is being made in closing research gaps.


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