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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: GENERAL


DAVID W. DENT, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Towson University

THE PUBLICATIONS (BOOKS AND JOURNAL ARTICLES) reviewed in this section on Government and Politics: General reveal that key themes from the past—democratic transformation, party and electoral systems, populism, and state-society relations—continue to dominate the literature from the region. Civil-military relations—a subject that once dominated this section—seems to have declined in importance as the region experiences fewer regime crises and coup attempts by disgruntled members of the military, and less pressure from Washington to remove leftist regimes from power. There are also a smaller number of studies devoted to theory-building, but a growing trend in crime and security studies indicates that these topics have captured the attention of some scholars. The attention now being devoted to subnational political institutions, federalism, and decentralization as it relates to representation and democratization indicates a revival of an old trend with deep roots in the study of Latin American politics. As in past HLAS volumes, the larger Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela—receive far more research attention than the smaller countries in the hemisphere. Controversial leaders—Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, Alberto Fujimori, and a few others—tend to draw more attention because of the way they play the political game (or the way they handle a political crisis and the way Washington reacts to them) than those who pursue cautious and noncontroversial approaches to political change. It is important to note the declining importance of the US in Latin America, a theme that is reflected in polls that show growing anti-Americanism and resistance to neoliberal solutions mandated by Washington to address the pressing problems of poverty, inequality, and globalization. Although revolutionary movements are declining throughout Latin America, Rochlin (item #bi2005005913#) provides an excellent treatment of four powerful guerrilla movements with valuable comparative analytical conclusions for future study.

DEMOCRACY AND AUTHORITARIANISM

The effort to understand democracy continues to grow, as scholars focus on how democracies can be made more accountable and representative (items #bi2006000482# and #bi2005005925#), democratic durability (item #bi2005005941#), the relationship between the quality of democracy and human development (items #bi2005005938# and #bi2004003883#), strategies for eradicating authoritarian legacies from existing democratic institutions and practices (items #bi2005001933# and #bi2005005055#), how international and domestic politics interact to influence democratization (item #bi2005004498#), the causes and dynamics of democratization (item #bi2005005926#), and the impact of corruption on democracy, human rights, and institutional development (item #bi2004003890#). In one of the best studies of democratic accountability—a subject that is more in need of research in the US—Mainwaring and Welna (item #bi2005005925#) provide a wealth of information and valuable insights into the rarely studied interaction between various aspects of democratic accountability in the post- transition stage of Latin American government and politics. Cameron studies the threat to Latin American democracies from the global war on terrorism by looking at democracies that have expanded executive power at the expense of other institutions (item #bi2005004446#). In an effort to understand the growing role of women in government and politics, Okeke-Ihejirika and Franceschet (item #bi2003004003#) use the contrasting cases of Chile and Nigeria to find the link between state feminism and democratization. The study of democracy in Latin America is a fascinating puzzle with many scholars in search of the origins and characteristics that have been central to the politics of change in the hemisphere. In his second edition of Building Democracy in Latin America (item #bi2005005926#), Peeler worries that liberal democracy in Latin America may not be able to survive under conditions of globalization unless democracy is substantially deepened within the region. In the past several years a variety of candidates won office on platforms opposing neoliberal economic reforms, favoring a greater role of the state, and espousing negative views of the US. These elections and the elected officials demand greater attention from scholars who are seeking a better understanding of government and politics in Latin America.

ELECTORAL POLITICS AND POLITICAL PARTIES

With the continuing interest in democratization and party politics, electoral politics and party development continue to expand as subjects of investigation. Cavarozzi and Medina's edited work on the importance of strong political parties finds that parties form critical institutional links in the overall process of democratization (item #bi2005005907#). Garrido offers an interesting study of coalition strategies in multiparty presidential systems through an examination of Brazil from the 1940s–90s (item #bi2005002250#). Panizza's study of the social democratic left in Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay sheds light on the recent political shift to the left, demonstrating the significance of the rhetorical shift away from socialism, class struggle and ownership of the means of production (item #bi2006002343#).

FEDERALISM/CENTRALIZATION

Studies focusing on the politics of federal systems in Latin America show a sophisticated growth in theory development and empirical investigation. Using federalism as an independent variable, Gibson shows how it helps to shape the political arena in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela (item #bi2006002165#). Eaton examines the redesign of subnational institutions in an effort to understand decentralization and recentralization (item #bi2006001039#). Montero and Samuels break new ground with a comparative case-study approach to investigating the political, fiscal, and administrative duties of subnational governments (item #bi2005000393#). Eaton and Dickovick also provide an interesting and valuable study of the recentralization of politics in Argentina and Brazil (item #bi2005002466#).

CRISIS, CONFLICT, AND STATE SECURITY

Some of best works in this section deal with public security, crime, and conflict-resolution using comparative public policy analysis. Bailey and Dammert (item #bi2006001047#) offer an excellent comparative analysis of public security, police reform, and crime as threats to democratic rule in five Latin American countries. In another edited volume, Drake and Hershberg (item #bi2006002151#) provide an outstanding set of essays devoted to the common elements of crisis in the Andes. Koonings and Kruijt (item #bi2005000389#) attempt to understand "state failure" in Latin America by stressing that in Latin America "partial state failure" can be attributed largely to the failure of neoliberal economic policies and weakened state structures that have little ability to deliver jobs, social services, and an improved quality of life. Another important work that puts Andean politics in comparative perspective is the edited work by Burt and Mauceri (item #bi2005004510#).

RELIGION AND POLITICS

The declining power of the Catholic Church and the rise of evangelical Protestantism since 1970 have provoked a number of valuable studies of religious actors and religious political behavior. One of the best to deal with this subject is Patterson (item #bi2005005052#) who uses data from the World Values Survey and Latinobarometer to test a number of hypotheses related to the religious behavior of Protestants. It is now clear that religious orientations are not apolitical and Protestant members of religious organizations are not disengaged, otherworldly, politically passive, or prone to authoritarianism. Patterson's work (item #bi2005002611#) adds considerably to our knowledge of religion and politics within the context of the growing interest democratization and the pull of authoritarian cultures with roots in the past.

While several studies indicate the importance of US policy for understanding the government and politics of Latin America, scholars often do not thoroughly demonstrate the significant role of the US when assessing the key players in the political game. The Bush administration will go down in history as having failed to address adequately the key problems that affect the US and Latin America; it should be noted that the inept handling of American foreign policy in an age of globalization, democratization, and growing hot spots related to the global war on terrorism may be behind the desire of many Latin American governments to distance themselves from Washington and its blunders and scandals.


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