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Volume 55 / Social Sciences


MARC W. CHERNICK, Director, Andean and Amazonian Studies Project, Center for Latin American Studies, Georgetown University

POLITICAL STUDIES OF COLOMBIA AND ECUADOR now have a higher profile outside of the Andean region than they have had in the past. One of the reasons is the increase in the quantity and quality of scholarship being produced in the region. Another is the consolidation of important research and teaching centers in both countries. Finally, it seems that by the early 1990s, political processes in each of these Andean countries began to pique the interest of political scientists. In the past, Colombia and Ecuador were often neglected in political anthologies, largely because they did not fit the broader paradigms generated by political events in the Southern Cone, Brazil, or Mexico that have dominated much of the theoretical literature. In the case of Colombia, political scientists were often compelled to explain why certain events, such as military intervention and regime breakdown, did not occur, or why more traditional political patterns, such as entrenched elite-dominated multi-class parties, have endured.

Much has changed. For one, there are few paradigms left. Further, many aspects of political life in Colombia and Ecuador in the 1990s are proving to be in the forefront of contemporary research in the region. In Colombia, the issues of drug- trafficking, organized crime, and social violence are generating much scholarship. At one time, these issues were thought to underscore Colombia's distinctiveness and exceptionalism. Today this work is pioneering the analysis of political and social issues that increasingly define politics in other regions, such as Mexico, Central America, and Brazil.

In Ecuador, although there is still a lag between politics and published scholarship, one of the key themes that is stimulating much scholarly interest and research is the rise of the indigenous movement as a major actor in national politics. Twice in the early 1990s, the indigenous movement organized nationwide protests that led to the reordering of the national political agenda to include indigenous concerns related to land, language, and national identity. Selverston provides a good account of this phenomenon (item bi 96007644); we can also expect several doctoral dissertations on the subject over the next few years.

At the same time, both Colombia and Ecuador have followed the regional patterns of neoliberal economic reforms. In Ecuador, these have been pursued by a conservative government; in Colombia, they have been implemented by administrations associated with the more reformist wing of the Liberal Party. Foreign and national scholars are beginning to address the political consequences of these economic policies from a comparative perspective.

Collectively, all the changes outlined above make the countries more accessible to comparative research. Having recently spent two years in the region as a visiting profesor at the National University of Colombia and a regular lecturer at FLACSO-Ecuador (made possible through an individual research grant from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation), I was able to closely witness the expanded activities of the social science communities in both countries as well as the upsurge in interest by foreign scholars. The increase in entries during this biennium reflects both the greater quantity of good scholarship, and also my extended stay in the region.


Violence and drug-trafficking continue to shape the political debate and scholarly production in and on Colombia. However, whereas two years ago scholars, researchers and journalists were mostly absorbed in analyzing the nature of the crisis, today there has emerged an extensive literature on the response of the government, especially during the administration of César Gaviria from 1990-94. On the peace process, see García Durán's De la Uribe a Tlaxcala (item bi 93025082); La paz: más allá de la guerra (item bi 96002176), which contains an interesting article by Jesús Antonio Bejarano; the very important study by the Comisión de Superación de la Violencia, Pacificar la paz (item bi 93025068); Vélez de Piedrahita's El diálogo y la paz (item bi 96002112); and El Tolima: una respuesta pacífica (item bi 94014683).

On the drug trade, Francisco Thoumi has several publications which greatly enrich our understanding of the economics and politics of drug-trafficking in Colombia (items bi 96002813, bi 93019311 and bi 93021665). Additionally two excellent chapters on the rise of the Colombian mafias and the relationship of drugs and violence can be found in Violencia en la región andina: el caso colombiano (item bi 96002814). Alvaro Camacho also has a very interesting review essay (item bi 93021706.)

Perhaps the most significant response to political crisis was the Constitutional Assembly that met from Feb. to July 1991. This latter produced a new Constitution which replaced the 1886 one. Manuel José Cepeda has written three important books on the subject (items bi 96003084, bi 96007627, and bi 96007633). Dugas (item bi 96002198) and Lleras Restrepo (item bi 94014661) also make important contributions to this topic.

At the same time, there is a growing concern about the deterioration of human rights. In the past few years, several Colombian human rights organizations have been created. Their voice is increasingly being heard, and their work is now an essential source for primary data and analysis. Most notable of the non-governmental organizations is the Comisión Andina de Juristas, Seccional Colombiana. Two important works by Colombian scholars and human rights activists are Guerra y constituyente (item bi 96002222), and Justicia, derechos humanos e impunidad, published by the Consejería Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos (item bi 96007643). For other excellent human rights work, turn to Valencia Villa's La justicia de las armas (item bi 96002203), Desplazamiento, derechos humanos y conflicto armado (item bi 94014678), and La verdad del '93 (item bi 96002128).

Studies of urban and regional violence have also proliferated. See, for instance, Alonso Salazar, No nacimos pa' semilla (item bi 96002815), Putumayo, produced by the Comisión Andina de Juristas (item bi 96002167), and Alejo Vargas Velásquez's Colonización y conflicto armado: Magdalena Medio Santandereano (item bi 96001798).

Civil-military relations continue to be the subject of research and debate, especially as the country, beginning in 1991, returned to the tradition of a civilian Minister of Defense. Francisco Leal's El oficio de la guerra (item bi 96001801) is an important analysis of the evolution of military doctrine in Colombia. Elsa Blair Trujillo's Las fuerzas armadas: una mirada civil (item bi 96001799) provides a useful interpretive history of the military's role in politics. Two books address this theme by revisiting the 1985 takeover of the Palace of Justice: Ana Carrigan's The Palace of Justice: a Colombian tragedy (item bi 96002172), a first-rate piece of investigative reporting as well as a gripping narrative, and Militares, guerrilleros y autoridad civil (item bi 96002927).

Although the continued escalation of political and social violence shaped much of the research, as well as the politics, of the country, there were some good studies reflecting other aspects of the political regime and society. Pilar Gaitán et al. produced a thorough study on decentralization and the direct election of mayors (item bi 94014664). Hartlyn addressed the issue of presidentialism, once again adroitly applying larger theoretical concerns in the discipline of political science to the study of Colombia (item bi 94005743). Oscar Fresneda et al. researched and published under the auspices of the United Nations an extensive and well-documented study on the relationship between poverty and violence (item bi 96007635). Chernick and Jiménez, a political scientist and an historian, teamed up to write a history of the Colombian left which challenges some of the traditional interpretations (item bi 96000276). Torres Carrillo investigated popular urban struggles in La Ciudad en la sombra: barrios y luchas populares en Bogotá (item bi 96002817). Findji provides a good analysis on the politics of the indigenous movements (item bi 96002820) and government functionaries and politicians address corruption (item bi 94014675).

Finally, Francisco Leal and Andres Dávila (item bi 96002136) have written an outstanding study on clientelism which is an important contribution to the literature on Colombia, revisiting a theme which used to be central to the study of Colombian politics. This detailed case study demonstrates that the issue remains important even after the tumultuous events of the 1980s and 1990s.


Over 60 years after he was first elected president, and more than 20 years after his fifth and last government was overthrown by the military coup of 1972, populist leader José María Velasco Ibarra is still attracting scholarly attention and debate over his role in shaping Ecuadorian politics. Among the best of these new works is Carlos de la Torre Espinosa's, La seducción velasquista (item bi 96002822). Also insightful is Agustín Cueva's volume, El proceso de dominación política en el Ecuador. For other works, see La agonía del populismo (item bi 96002309) and Populismo (item bi 96002307).

Other central themes in recent scholarship are the military and democracy, not surprising in a country where the military has retained much of its popularity, and where in the past 15 years the electorate has lurched from right to left, and back to right in a frustrated attempt to realize the promise of the democratic transition of 1979. A major contribution to the literature on democratic transition in Ecuador is Anita Isaac's Military rule and transition in Ecuador 1972-92 (item bi 96002310), an example of first-rate social science research applied to area and country studies and an achievement in its own right.

Concerning the military, see El Estado y las F.F.A.A. (item bi 92015902); for a discussion and analysis of Ecuadorian democracy in the 1990s, see Menéndez-Carrión et al. (item bi 93025174). "La Hora de las Elecciones en Ecuador" by the late Ecuadorian sociologist, Agustín Cueva (item bi 94005450) and Ninfa León's interview with César Verduga (item bi 96002824) are also immportant contributions.

Bonilla has written an excellent and original book on drug-trafficking in Ecuador which should be required reading (item bi 96002823) and Bustamante has written a comprehensive article on Ecuadorian foreign policy (item bi 93021795). Conaghan turns to the issue of presidentialism, skillfully using her broad knowledge of Ecuadorian politics to insert this central Andean country into the wider debate on presidentialism vs. parliamentarism (item bi 94005744). Conaghan and Malloy have written a major book on neoliberalism in the Central Andies, ably comparing Ecuador with Peru and Bolivia (item bi 96003206). This book demonstrates first-rate comparative scholarship. Lind has written a very good study on women's organizations which serves as both a history and as an analysis on the shaping of collective identities (item bi 96002825).

As mentioned above, Selverston has begun to address the issue of indigenous politics in a pioneering effort that helps lay the foundation for future research (item bi 96007644).

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