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Volume 59 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: GENERAL


DAVID W. DENT, Professor of Political Science, Towson University
PAUL C. SONDROL, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs


SCHOLARLY RESEARCH AND WRITING on government and politics in Latin America continues unabated since the publication of HLAS 57, reflecting evolving democratization afoot throughout the region. A decade ago, scholarship exuded the euphoria and enthusiasm of the halcyon days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a wave of economic and political liberalization swept Latin America. Ten years later, the works reviewed here regarding "post-Cold War" Latin America exhibit ranging theoretical approaches, extensive analysis, and multidisciplinary perspectives illuminating political change. But the general tenor and tone in Latin American studies now is one of mature, sober reflection—even concern—about the assuredness and completeness of democracy.

Academic and policy concerns about democratization in Latin America now focus not only upon the threat of authoritarian regression, but on the depth, breadth, and quality of democratic reform to date. In addition, a staggering array of seemingly intractable problems continue to vex much of the region, including ephemeral economic success, growth over distribution, crushing international debt, inflation, political extremism, and endemic corruption. The following themes and recent works have been influenced by the issues and challenges raised in the decidedly mixed denouement of post-transition democratization in Latin America.

Civil-Military Relations. The process of democratic consolidation in Latin America continues as the crux of contemporary scholarship, with the redefinition of military roles considered central to institutionalized democracy. Loveman's "'Protected Democracy' in Latin America" stresses the ancient concept of the Latin American military as "guarantors" of their nation's common good as central to understanding the limits of military subordination to democratic regimes (item #bi 97014379#). Nunn's "Latin American Military-Civilian Relations between World War II and the New World Order" also focuses on the Latin American military tradition and ethos and how these self-perceptions continue to influence military thought and action in the post-Cold War world (item #bi 97017903#). Martz's "Contrasting Military Roles in Democratization" compares and contrasts the Colombian and Venezuelan cases to stress that military intromission in democratic politics is a matter of degree, rather than an "either-or" proposition (item #bi 97014270#).

Institutional Designs in Consolidating Democracies. Theoretical research and monographs on reforming the state and new models of sustainable democracy continue apace, as Latin American governments experiment with workable elements of both modernity and tradition. Anglade's "La democracia y el imperio de la ley en América Latina" usefully synthesizes much of the primary theoretical research and debate over conceptualizing democracy (item #bi 98002962#). More applied is Grabendorff's "Algunas transiciones hacia la democracia en América Latina," which pays particular attention to the incomplete "semi-democracies" in Paraguay and Peru (item #bi 98002985#). One outstanding work on political structures or institutions is Shugart and Mainwaring's chapter on "Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America," which extends and broadens the continuing debate regarding the efficacy of presidentialism for the survival of democracy in Latin America (item #bi 97012072#). Mexican theorist Jorge Castañeda's "Los últimos autoritarismos" also examines Latin America's peculiar brand of ejecutivismo via an interesting comparison of personalist rule in post-Cold War Mexico and Cuba (item #bi 98002986#). Nino's The Constitution of Deliberative Democracy is a wide-ranging analysis of the complex ways constitutional procedures and practices support new democracies in Latin America (item #bi 98015609#), while Agüero and Stark's edited Fault Lines of Democracy in Post-Transition Latin America cogently analyzes the tensions and weaknesses (judicial reform, gender perspectives, indigenous peoples) in new democratic regimes (item #bi 99003906#).

Social Movements in Latin America. The political transition of the 1990s has been characterized by the emergence of new political groups and the concomitant relaxation of the rigid attitudes against change exhibited in the authoritarian era. However, still-powerful elites from the old order retain uncompromising attitudes against democratization in this struggle between new and old. Numerous works highlight this interaction of social movements and elite reformers in shaping new democracies in Latin America throughout the 1990s. Writings on church-state relations have shifted away from the liberation theology that dominated the literature in the 1980s. Today, scholarly books such as Smith's engaging Religious Politics in Latin America, Pentecostal vs. Catholic examine Protestant (particularly evangelical) growth and Catholic retrenchment in Latin America, highlighting differences and mistrust that complicate and mitigate religion's influence in public policy debates in democratic Latin America (item #bi 99003917#). Petras' "Latin America: Thirty Years After Ché" forcefully argues the continued relevance of class politics in the uneven economic and political development of Latin American democracy in the 1990s, citing as proof revolutionary movements in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and, most ominously, Colombia's FARC guerrillas (item #bi 98003674#). In the globalized world of the 1990s, social and economic policies in privatized, decentralized, democratized Latin America have had limited success addressing the crucial, enduring issues of poverty and inequality. Tokman and O'Donnell's edited book is an important contribution to the theoretical and practical debate regarding the poor (i.e., the majority of the population), and economic and political reform in Latin America (item #bi 99003905#). La hora de la transparencia en América Latina cogently analyzes the enormous cost of corruption on citizens, and the impact of corruption on governmental legitimacy in Latin America in the late 1990s (item #bi 99003912#).


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