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Volume 57 / Social Sciences


EDUARDO A. GAMARRA, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Acting Director, Latin American and Caribbean Center, Florida International University, University Park Campus, Miami

THE EARLY 1990S SAW THE PUBLICATION of a large body of literature on Bolivian government and politics. With few exceptions, the material reviewed for this volume of HLAS lacks methodological rigor and sophistication. The level of scholarly output reflects both a lack of social science training among many authors, and the general state of political science as a discipline in Bolivia. A new generation of university-trained social scientists will soon enter the field and the new millennium should witness an improvement in the quality of studies addressing political and government issues. Meanwhile, few US- and European-based scholars focus on the country, adding to the general dearth of good material on Bolivian politics.

The books and articles reviewed this biennium fall into the following basic categories: narcotics trade; democracy and political parties; electoral studies; civil-military relations; indigenous groups and politics; administrative decentralization; institutional analyses; recent political history; as well as biographies and general surveys. Most remarkable is the proliferation of studies on local politics, owing mainly to approval of the 1994 law decentralizing the Bolivian State.

The drug trade continues to receive much attention. As noted, the quality of the work continues to be quite poor given that the nature of the drug trade inhibits any serious academic inquiry. Therefore, a serious examination of the Bolivian narcotics trade and its impact on the country’s political system continues to be wanting. Even less is known about the economic implications of the coca-cocaine economy. Noteworthy among the works included in this volume are the transcripts of a congressional hearing which examined alleged links between political party members and narcotics traffickers (item bi 95024867). Another important contribution is William R Mendoza’s investigative work on Bolivian organized crime and its political connections (item bi 95024866).

Civil-military relations issues in Bolivia are generally overlooked by the scholarly community because few civilians take this topic seriously. Nevertheless, a few analysts such as Barrios Morón and Mayorga in La cuestión militar en cuestión: democracia y fuerzas armadas have made significant contributions to this area of study (item bi 95024870).

During the 1990s more emphasis was placed on the study of Bolivian political institutions, and political parties continue to capture attention. The more noteworthy interpretations of Bolivia’s party system are Jorge Lazarte’s essays (item bi 95024905) and Isaac Sandoval’s book (item bi 95024875). The quantity of electoral studies has also increased in recent years, unfortunately outnumbered only by the number of elections themselves. San Martín (item bi 95024911), Lazarte (item bi 95024905), and Romero Ballivián (item bi 95024907) present studies of this genre. A few works reviewed in this volume also analyze municipal elections.

The literature on elections has been well supplemented by a number of essays on the nature of Bolivia’s presidential system. Jost (item bi 95020849) and Fundación Milenio (item bi 95024933) provide a good overview of the debate surrounding this issue. These studies focus on the characteristics of executive-legislative relations and ponder the viability of a parliamentary alternative to the current system. Despite the literature’s institutional focus, the scarcity of studies on the Bolivian National Congress and the judiciary leaves a significant void in Bolivian political science scholarship.

One of the most important topics this biennium concerns the Popular Participation Law enacted in 1994 during the government of former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. The Popular Participation Law has received international attention. The World Bank and other international organizations have adopted it as a model to be applied elsewhere. As a result, the law has had widespread repercussions in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, and its architects have become sought after consultants. The studies reviewed here provide historical background to the Popular Participation Law; a few attempt to assess its impact. Because the law is less than five years old, all assessments are tentative. The most interesting of the works reviewed are those by Dabdoub (item bi 95024856) and Molina (item bi 99000375).

While not within the decentralization genre, a number of studies have begun to examine local politics and the significance of key actors. Among the more innovative and controversial are works that explore the influence of lodges, masonic and otherwise, on local governments. Ferreira’s portrayal of the secret Santa Cruz logias,for example, provides fascinating insights into the nature of local Bolivian politics (item bi 95024871).

Bolivians have produced a very long list of political biographies. These biographies, however, are generally homages to party leaders and other politicians, written primarily by partisans rather than social scientists. One example is Sanabria’s biography of current president Gen. Hugo Banzer Suárez (item bi 95024906). A less partisan, and more seriously social scientific, portrait is the biography of Jaime Paz Zamora by Peñaranda and Chávez Zamorano (item bi 99000373). The scarcity of solid, scholarly biographies is unfortunate. Still lacking are objective social scientific studies of great 20th-century leaders such as Victor Paz Estenssoro, Hernán Siles Zuazo, Walter Guevara Anaya, and others. Exceptions are the very excellent works by Fernando Mayorga on the political discourse of emerging leaders in Bolivia (item bi 95024872). Mayorga, a political sociologist is likely to become the country’s leading social scientist within the decade.

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