Fall 2007

Democracy in Latin America

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-08


Javier Corrales (Section 01)


This is an introduction to the study of both contemporary Latin American politics and democratization in general. The overriding question that will guide this seminar is: why have democracy and self-sustained prosperity been so difficult to accomplish in the region? We will focus on Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela, and to a lesser extent on Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The course is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on common historical and institutional legacies that might have hindered democratic and economic development in the region. This part also examines similarities in the way that Latin American nations have responded to this legacy. For example, almost all Latin American countries developed intense economic nationalism, an overexpanded state bureaucracy, and corporatist-populist methods of political control between the 1930s and the 1980s. We will ask why Latin American countries adopted these similar political features. The second part of the course looks at some differences among our cases. Despite their similar traditions, the countries of the region developed very different political systems after World War II. Why? Hypotheses will be formulated to explain, for instance, why some countries became democratic while others did not; why some countries remained stable while others did not; and why some societies resisted authoritarianism successfully, while others did not. This part of the course also examines the role of political institutions, pressure groups (such as business, labor, the military and the Catholic Church), and cultural traits (such as machismo) in shaping these responses. The third part of the course examines the transition to democracy. What explains the odd combination of democratic rebirth and economic chaos in the 1980s? As we move to the 1990s, our question changes again: why do some countries continue on a path of greater democratization, while others exhibit democratic reverses, even authoritarian revivals. The last part of the course will focus on a completely new topic, both in Latin American politics and in the scholarship of democracy worldwide: the fate of gay/lesbian rights movements. Advancing gay rights in any country confronts enormous challenges. Are such challenges different, maybe even more onerous, in Latin American, than say, advanced democracies? Or to the contrary, is there something about Latin American institutions and cultures that would suggest that this will be the site of the wave of democratic advances in the fight for gay rights. First semester. Professor Corrales.