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Volume 53 / Social Sciences


DAVID DENT, Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies, Towson State University
RENE SALGADO, Consultant to the Hispanic Division, The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

POLITICAL SCIENCE RESEARCH on the three Andean countries of northern South America reflects the prevailing challenges to democratic rule brought about by illicit drug-trafficking, economic adjustment, and restless institutional actors such as the armed forces, industrialists, labor unions, and insurgents demanding a greater share of the national economic pie. Whether the literature reflects an ideological bias of the left or right, the fragility of democratic rule is clearly evident in the political development of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.


The literature on Colombian politics in this volume is heavily influenced by major political conflicts associated with drug trafficking and various strains on the political system. Lesser attention is devoted to the nature of Colombian democracy during a time of crisis and chaos. Studies devoted to the politics of the National Front and the party system, Church-State relations, and agrarian issues have all but disappeared from the "research map" of Colombia. What now dominates the literature is a plethora of works dealing with the national and international dimensions of drug trafficking, the military and the future of Colombian democracy, increasing violence and a growing human rights problem, and the examination of various opposition groups. It was not too long ago that the political science research on Colombia was dominated by North American and European scholars. This is no longer the case; the number of well-trained Colombian political scientists currently publishing important works in the field now easily surpasses the number of non-Colombian writers.

As drug trafficking and violence have engulfed Colombia, scholars have made serious efforts to understand and explain what has now become a chronic malady. Arango Jaramillo's Impacto del narcotráfico en Antioquia (item bi 91010053) is a valuable work for its empirical content and conclusions concerning the impact of drug investments and their influence in Medellín; it also provides interesting profiles of the "managers" of illicit drug activities. Kalmanovitz's Violencia y narcotráfico en Colombia (item bi 92010412) offers a brief examination of the economic and political explanations for drug trafficking. Rosenberg provides an interesting, but depressing, account of assassination and murder in Medellín, the cocaine capital of the world (item bi 90011346). In a controversial assessment of the pre-1980s illegal narcotics trade, McRae argues that the National Front was helped by the illegal narcotics trade which acted as an escape valve for unemployment and as a generator of needed capital (item bi 91008679). Arrieta takes a more comprehensive look at the deep roots of illicit drug trafficking and discusses several policy options from legalization to political reform (item bi 91010046). Despite the current crisis centered on drugs and violence, Colombian democracy has not broken down due in part to the "eruption" of parastate institutions which have provided flexibility to ensure the continuation of democracy (see item bi 91010080).

The linkage between drug trafficking, military and guerrilla groups, and human rights violations is another area that has received considerable research attention. Medina's case study of drug trafficking in Boyacá details the extent of violence and death associated with the struggle against what he calls "narco-paramilitarismo" (item bi 92010400). Several studies devoted to the politics of counter-terrorism conclude that the Colombian government's only solution is to aim for some kind of compromise between the drug traffickers and insurgents in order to end the violence (items bi 92000654 and bi 91020887). US military and law enforcement assistance policies are criticized for exacerbating the drug problem while expanding the power of the military and either weakening or eliminating the power of labor, peasant, and community groups (items bi 91007501 and bi 91005939). Human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International (AI), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos, and the International Commission of Jurists have produced critical assessments of both US and Colombian anti-drug policy. These reports discuss the failure of the Colombian government to offer safeguards and the need to condition US assistance on the prosecution of military and police officials or on a general improvement in the human rights situation (items bi 91010101, bi 91010042, bi 92010362, bi 91010097, bi 91010049, and bi 91010059). The Colombian government's rebuttal to these critics justifies its own actions and accuses AI of "committing an extremely rash and reckless affront to the Colombian state by attributing to it the characteristics of a dictatorship" (item bi 91010077).

The role of the State, the future of Colombian democracy, and military politics continue as subjects of interest. Leal Buitrago's second edition of Estado y política en Colombia (item bi 91010066) adds an important segment on violence and instability under the Betancur Administration. In a brief history of the Colombian military, Pizarro Leongómez examines the process of professionalization during the first half of the 20th century (item bi 91007678), and in a Marxist analysis of the Colombian military, Caicedo portrays the armed forces as one of the prime agents of imperialism (item bi 91010062). Martz's discussion of the first two years of the Barco Administration examines civil-military relations and efforts to resist US anti-drug policy (item bi 89008978).

Literature on the political opposition, labor politics, and guerrilla groups has generated token interest since HLAS 51. The most interesting of these is Gallón's Entre movimientos y caudillos (item bi 91010078), an historical analysis of political movements in opposition to the two traditional parties. Pécaut (item bi 91014695) analyzes labor unions and the working class, offering explanations for the weakness of organized labor, and López-Alvez (item bi 91000138) provides a valuable examination of the politics of unionization with a case study on the formation of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT). Pizarro profiles four major guerrilla groups, focusing on their social composition, ideology, strategy, and mode of operation (item bi 91004463).

Institutional analysis of the political process in Colombia is slight but a few important works stand out in this volume. In a valuable study of the presidency, Archer and Chernick investigate the apparent paradox of power in which policy success has not accompanied the expansion of presidential power (item bi 91004346). The inability of the ruling elite to deal effectively with severe problems of economic inequality is a major theme in Leal Buitrago's work dealing with the long history of bipartisanship (item bi 91012014). In an effort to understand civic movements in small towns and cities, Cartier provides an interesting study of how urban social movements in Colombia differ from those in other parts of Latin America (item bi 90002765). A useful edited volume on the "health" of Colombian democracy during the 1980s can be found in La democracia en blanco y negro (item bi 91010061) in which pluralist democracy is used as the measuring rod of political performance. Colombian political scientists at the Univ. de los Andes address some of the same issues in an edited work (item bi 91010057) that examines different views on the prerequisites of democracy during a time of severe crisis. Leal Buitrago and Zamosc focus on the political behavior of key groups such as the Church, the army, powerful economic groups, and political parties during the chaotic period of the 1980s (item bi 92010388).

Country studies and updated chapters on modern Colombian politics continue to appear and offer the scholar differing views on the political process and Colombian democracy. Bagley's review of two recent books is a valuable comparison because it shows how conceptual clarity and focused analysis make the difference between a worthwhile and a useless study of the Colombian political system (item bi 91004942). In his brief country chapter, Kline discusses two contending views of the elitist nature of Colombian democracy (item bi 91006651).


The challenges to Venezuela's democracy in the post-oil boom and the process of economic adjustment introduced in 1989 have led to a greater diversification of subjects of research on Venezuelan government and politics. Still, electoral politics, a traditional area of inquiry, continues to attract scholarly attention. The most interesting and comprehensive study of the 1988 national elections is found in Las elecciones presidenciales: ¿la última oportunidad o la primera? (item bi 91010031).

Research interest in key political actors, social movements and State institutions appears to be growing faster than in other areas. Ellner provides two interesting studies of students and labor (items bi 90012561 and bi 90014203). His study of youth groups in the 1960s is a rare look into this subject while research into the relationship between Acción Democrática and organized labor sheds new light on an old subject. McCoy (item bi 89006099) provides an interesting analysis of government-labor relationships in the 1970s, while Salgado (item bi 90004127) discusses the role and performance of Congress in the policy process. Pérez Perdomo (item bi 91010022) looks back to the role of State institutions in the 19th century and provides a useful examination of the early process of bureaucratization.

Civil-military relations, a topic which had almost vanished from the literature during the last three decades' emphasis on democratization, has started to intrigue Venezuelan researchers once again as strains in the democratic system begin to appear. Despite the recent setbacks in the aftermath of the decline in petroleum revenues, analysts such as Rey (item bi 91007829) are fairly optimistic, or cautiously optimistic, as in the case of Aguero (item bi 92002760). Gil Yepes (item bi 90012206), in a more policy-oriented study, offers suggestions on how to build more cooperative mechanisms between the Venezuelan military and other sectors of society.

New research on the politics of economic adjustment and decentralization suggests a trend that is now likely to continue in the study of Venezuelan governance. The works by García (item bi 91010521) Rachadell (item bi 91007845), Peñalva (item bi 91007563), López Maya et al. (item bi90-12342), and Gómez Calcaño and López Maya (item bi 93012878) are illustrative of this research pattern.

Undoubtedly, the most enlightening and up-to-date of all recent analyses and discussions of the process of economic adjustment and the so-called "Great Turnaround" launched by President Pérez in 1989 is the book edited by Joseph S. Tulchin and Gary Bland (item bi 93002146), a work which provides a well-balanced mix of perspectives by scholars, Venezuelan politicians, and policymakers.


The political science research on Ecuador continues to improve over what was produced in the previous decade due in large part to the collaborative work being done in research centers and institutes in the capital. With its fourth successive civilian government, a considerable amount of political science research on Ecuador focuses on political parties, elections, and voting behavior. One of the few studies of populist voting behavior is that of Menéndez-Carrión, whose field research in Guayaquil reveals that lower class voters respond to populist leaders for rational reasons rather than because of a candidate's populist rhetoric and charisma (item bi 91010095). Verdesoto Custode examines the changes in political parties, popular movements, and government policy that have come with democratization and economic growth (item bi 91011967). Four documents produced by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral offer an important source for analyzing parties and the electoral process: Los partidos políticos: documentos básicos (item bi 92010354) is an excellent reference work for understanding the party system; essays and quantitative data on the electoral process can be found in El proceso electoral ecuatoriano (item bi 91010100) and Análisis de los procesos electorales (item bi 92010356); and Legislación electoral ecuatoriana (item bi 92010355) offers an excellent compendium of electoral law going back to the 19th century with interpretive essays and legal analysis.

Studies of the military and civil-military relations also dominate the subject categories of political science research on Ecuador. Martz examines the impact of the military on regime performance, linkages with civilian interest groups, and the operation of the power structure of the military (item bi 91010040). Bustamante provides an excellent analysis of civil-military relations which focuses on the role of the armed forces in the democratic transition and the characteristics of a civil-military consensus for the consolidation of democratic rule (item bi 91007819). And, in a rare comparative study, he looks at two military institutions in terms of ideology, warfare strategy, and equipment policies (item bi 90012576). Although not a study of civil-military relations, Rodríguez's political history touches on some of the roots of authoritarianism and militarism in Ecuador (item bi 90009260).

Studies of national political institutions still receive considerable attention in the political science literature due to the importance of the presidency and, to a lesser extent, congress (e.g., items bi 91010069, bi 92010409, bi 91010083, and bi 91010089). Of these, former president Hurtado's works provide an interesting case in which a practicing academic political scientist assumes national power and then provides a scholarly assessment in his own writings. Conaghan (item bi 89008981) and Martz (item bi 91006658) provide insights into the presidency of Febres Cordero and the challenges of maintaining democracy as a form of government. Two studies of government at the sub-national level need to be mentioned because they demonstrate the initial phases of a serious interest in local government and administration, a rarely studied subject in most of the literature on Ecuadorian politics (items bi 91007555 and bi 91010067).

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