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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: GENERAL


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

THE PUBLICATIONS REVIEWED in this section on Government and Politics reveal that certain themes from the past continue to dominate the literature from the region while a few new subjects have emerged that may fascinate those interested in Latin American political conditions. Studies of democracy, political parties, subnational political institutions, decentralization, and civil-military relations continue as subjects of interest to scholars who publish on the region. There seems to be less interest in populism, drug trafficking, theory building, state-society relations, guerrilla movements, revolutionary groups, and the role of intellectuals than in previous Handbook volumes. The newer subjects of interest to emerge in this volume include the politics of indigenous movements, crime and security, presidential impeachment, and gender politics. Scholars are devoting more attention to local-level politics as democracy is strengthened throughout the region. The general country studies that once dominated the literature have disappeared from the publication map of Latin America, leaving a void for those interested in the macropolitical view of government and politics. The low level of attention paid to Latin America by the George W. Bush administration is reflected in the literature as most scholars have little to say about the US as a forceful actor in the domestic politics of the region.

As in previous editions, the larger Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela—receive more research attention than the smaller countries in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, more research attention is focused on areas where controversial leaders are in power and countries are undergoing political and economic changes. The following dominant themes appear in this edition of the HLAS.

Democracy and Authoritarianism. Studies of democracy and democratic institutions and practices continue to grow with scholars focused on how to better understand democratic rule in Latin America. Van Cott's study of ethnic political movements highlights the success or failure of ethnic party formation, showing that these fledgling parties have been positive for democratic institutions in key South American countries (item #bi2008000201#). Helmke and Levitsky examine in considerable detail the importance of informal institutions by focusing on the rules of the game within a comparative framework (item #bi2008000200#). Canache and Allison examine the survival of democratic institutions; their findings indicate that citizens continue to favor democracy as a form of government despite their awareness of and opposition to corruption (item #bi2007000484#). Notwithstanding the declining strength of the military in many parts of Latin America, security concerns persist and democracies remain fragile. Hence, there will be a continuing role for the military in many Latin American societies (items #bi2008000216# and #bi2006001796#). In a comparison between Argentina and Venezuela, Pion-Berlin and Trinkunas find that democratic governments can rely on the military in times of social crisis without fear of negative retribution (item #bi2007004084#).

Political Parties. Political parties and electoral politics continue as important topics for those interested in the government and politics of the region. The growing power of leftist parties and leftist social movements is part of this trend (item #bi2008000219#), which, along with Regalado's study (item #bi2007001694#), focuses on the growing political power of popular movements, left political parties, and indigenous movements (item #bi2007000150#).

Political Instability and Accountability. As Latin American governments struggle to survive in a world of increasing tensions generated by emerging groups and failing economic conditions, studies of instability and accountability remain popular and important. While the power of the courts appears to be on the rise in Latin America (item #bi2007000195#), presidential impeachment has become the major instrument for deposing of unpopular rulers in times of crisis and instability (item #bi2007005473#).

Gender Politics. The role of women in Latin American politics and government continues to be a subject of interest due to the election of several female presidents. Studies of women's movements and rights have also appeared in this biennium (item #bi2008000207#). While considerable advances have been made in securing the rights of women, significant difficulties remain.

While several studies indicate the importance of US policy for understanding the government and politics of Latin America, there appears to be declining interest in the US as a major actor in the political game. The G.W. Bush administration did not address key problems in US-Latin American relations. Moreover, American foreign policy in this age of globalization, energy dependence, and the growing number of Latin American hot spots related to the global war on terrorism may be the reasons many Latin American governments continue to distance themselves from Washington and its policies, many rooted in a Cold War mind set. Although a handful of works investigate US involvement in the region (items #bi2008000212# and #bi2007003435#), there is a glaring absence of research interest in how the US shapes the government and politics of the region.


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