Third Wave of Democratization in Latin America: Advances and Setbacks, The

Third Wave of Democratization in Latin America: Advances and Setbacks, The

Norden, Deborah L

Frances Hagopian and Scott P. Mainwaring, eds., The Third Wave of Democratization in Latin America: Advances and Setbacks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Tables, figures, bibliography, index, 413 pp.; hardback $70; paperback $28.99.

In contemporary Latin America, the euphoria that accompanied initial democratization has now been transformed into concern about whether these democracies can truly be “consolidated.” This book is an important contribution to this discussion. Among the editors’ most notable accomplishments is their success in simultaneously encouraging intellectual creativity on the part of contributors and pulling these contributions together in an interesting way. seeking alternately to explain the sustainability of Latin American democracies, their relative quality, or both, the articles included here explore both troubled and relatively more successful democratic regimes. Approaches and findings vary, but collectively, the book makes an excellent contribution to furthering the understanding of these issues.

The book is organized into three main sections, categorizing countries according to the apparent success of their democracies. Three conceptual pieces frame these case studies: Mainwaring and Hagopian’s introduction, a more extensive theoretical chapter by Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, and Hagopian’s conclusion. Each of these essays goes well beyond a mere exercise in integration, which, in turn, implies some divergence among their arguments.

The key differences between the conceptual pieces relate to two factors: first, whether the authors focus only on democratic survival or whether they also address quality; and second, how much impact they consider socioeconomic or institutional “structures” and government performance to have on democratic outcomes. Both the introduction and the conclusion look at democratic stability, with political attitudes as the major explanation. Thus, Mainwaring and Hagopian downplay factors such as socioeconomic structure and relative economic success, emphasizing instead the impact of “political factors” on democratic sustainability, especially the attitudes of domestic or international actors. These factors, they argue, can ultimately overcome low economic development, inequality, and poor governmental performance (p. 7). Hagopian’s conclusion similarly emphasizes the importance of political attitudes for explaining democratic stability, but here she portrays attitudes as contingent on effective representation. According to Hagopian, what is critical is that citizens perceive the government as responsive, accountable, and relatively free of corruption, whether or not the actual results meet expectations (p. 321).

Without the integration tasks incumbent on the introduction and conclusion, Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán’s conceptual chapter elaborates a more nuanced argument. One key finding is that different variables may be relevant for explaining the two major outcomes of the book, the survival of democracy and its quality (p. 58). For example, similarly to the introduction, the authors argue that political factors, such as the regional prevalence of democracy and political polarization, have more impact on regime survival than structure and regime performance. Yet structure and regime performance emerge as much more important in explaining democratic stagnation. On the other hand, the authors suggest that international forces matter more in initial democratization and in preventing collapse than in the quest to promote democratic quality.

Thus, while the framing chapters have progressed in narrowing down the panorama of possible factors influencing democratic success, they have not settled on a single explanation, especially not one that could simultaneously address both the stability and quality of democracy. Likewise, while the case studies exhibit relative consistency regarding the variables they consider, they draw different conclusions. As Hagopian suggests, the issue of representation emerges as central to several authors; but some emphasize how political actors behave while others look at the institutions and rules that shape those behaviors. In chapters about Argentina and Bolivia, Steven Levitsky and René Antonio Mayorga pinpoint behaviors of political leaders more than institutions. Kurt Weyland, on the other hand, emphasizes institutions, as well as international factors, more than Levitsky or Mayorga, but reverses conventional wisdom by arguing that weak representative institutions have actually helped protect Brazil’s incipient democracy.

In the first years of the new millennium, both Argentina’s and Bolivia’s heretofore apparently “successful” experiments in democratization faced severe crises, in which popular uprisings forced elected presidents to abandon power precipitously. Levitsky and Mayorga therefore faced the dual challenge of explaining both initial success and subsequent crisis. To explain this shift from progress to precariousness in Argentina, Levitsky argues that while Argentina had strong representative political organizations, the “political rules” remained weakly ingrained (p. 65). Democracy initially appeared healthy, as civil society actively monitored the government for authoritarian abuses and corruption, while Peronism’s strength and deep roots in the society allowed a high level of governability-albeit only when the Peronists governed. It is notable that when the Radical Party (UCR) has been in power, governability has been more problematic; both post-1983 UCR presidents were forced to resign before the end of their terms. As Levitsky observes, weak political institutions and shifting rules of political behavior contributed to these outcomes, especially in 2001. These factors, in conjunction with international (especially IMF) neglect, exacerbated the economically induced crisis. In sum, for Levitsky, democratic practices seem more important than attitudes.

Because Mayorga’s article was apparently mostly written before the 2003 and 2005 crises, it focuses more on explaining Bolivian stability than its decline. Like Levitsky, Mayorga looks to political party behavior as a key explanation for stability, especially the increasing practice of bargaining and coalition building during the 1980s (p. 151). Mayorga also lauds Bolivia’s neoliberal “New Economic Policy” as initially supporting democratization, but then blames failed economic policies as deleterious to Bolivia’s democracy. Nevertheless, institutional arrangements have been critical in bringing tensions to a head in Bolivia. However democratic Bolivia’s political parties may have acted during the early democratic period, they had not sufficiently incorporated the country’s indigenous majority, an exclusion that contributed to the downfall of two democratically elected presidents. The absence of effective channels of representation thus contributed significantly to the destabilizing (versus democratizing) effect of these movements.

In contrast to Argentina and Bolivia, Brazil has managed to avoid such serious political crises. Therefore Kurt Weyland’s chapter focuses on explaining the factors that facilitated Brazilian democratization. What is most interesting about Weyland’s contribution is his assessment of the relationship between democratic stability and quality. According to Weyland, much of the credit for Brazil’s apparently successful democratization rests on international factors, especially “the collapse of ‘real socialism’ and the wave of market reform,” as these international changes contributed to more moderation by both the right and the left in Brazil (p. 92). Such changes have not necessarily contributed to improving representation; yet according to Weyland, Brazil’s flawed representation may have actually have been an advantage for preserving democracy. Weyland argues that Brazil’s weak parties have prevented serious interparty conflict, while the weakness of social movements and interest groups has prevented disruptive contestation. This inverts Levitsky’s understanding of the role of representative organizations in sustaining democracy.

Despite the authors’ emphasis alternately on political behaviors or international trends, what lies at the heart of democracy in all three cases is the question of representation. When political practices, rules, and institutions function to exclude frustrated social sectors, or alternatively to mobilize them beyond the capacity of representative organizations, democracy may be at risk. This holds true regardless of how democratic practices and institutions may appear. When flawed institutions and practices support inclusion and flexibility, the result may be a more resilient democracy; but when democratic reforms isolate the government from the people or mobilize unrepresented groups, the consequence may be instability. In this scenario, the region’s frequent economic crises and widespread economic inequality have served to exacerbate tensions, sometimes providing a true test of the resilience of democracies.

This discussion leads to one of the more interesting questions emerging from this volume: the relationship between democratic quality and democratic survival, especially in problematic democracies such as Guatemala, Colombia, and Venezuela. Contrary to Weyland’s approach, Mitchell Seligson’s chapter on Guatemala suggests that democracies need to address “quality” to survive. Seligson questions whether Guatemala’s incipient democracy is sustainable, despite its notable implementation of democratic procedures, given the failure to implement many elements in the peace accords. These points include issues such as judicial reform and indigenous rights. The issue of indigenous rights most clearly falls into the realm of representation, and could be seen has having mixed implications for survival. Neglecting indigenous concerns could help to preserve elite support for democracy, but at the same time could entail risks of provoking the kind of mobilization that destabilized Bolivia.

The deterioration of Colombia’s and Venezuela’s democracies appears to offer little advantage for democratic survival. With respect to the first of these, Ana María Bejarano and Eduardo Pizarro posit that Colombia’s democracy has been limited (“besieged”) by external factors-mostly guerrilla and paramilitary violence-which have converted it into a semidemocracy. As they demonstrate, this violence has constrained elections. Ironically, Bejarano and Pizarro’s analysis suggests that the government’s efforts to enhance democratization ultimately had the opposite effect, in that expanding participation weakened the political parties, thereby diminishing governability. Likewise, decentralization gave more influence to regionally based paramilitaries, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers (p. 247). Thus, while failure to reform in Brazil may have protected democratic stability, in Colombia, democratic reforms may have diminished the quality of democracy, potentially increasing the threat to stability.

Unintended consequences play a smaller part in Michael Coppedge’s discussion of Venezuela’s democracy. Coppedge proposes that the decline of Venezuela’s democracy was essentially due to the system of two-party dominance (“partyarchy”), which augmented the impact of economic shifts. Initially, the growth of the oil economy created considerable wealth, as well as a class structure that helped sustain Venezuela’s moderate two-party system. However, the decline in oil prices led to a reduced and frustrated middle class; consequently, “the political culture became less moderate and more radical” (p. 297). Coppedge suggests that this allowed the rise of Hugo Chávez’s “illiberal” democracy.

Despite a range of different arguments, these chapters concur in seeking more theoretical arguments and assessing similar variables. Some authors, such as Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán in their theoretical piece and Coppedge in his Venezuela chapter, have incorporated quantitative analysis into their studies, partly to help focus the qualitative segments, while others are more exclusively qualitative. The methodological outliers in the book are Martin Tanaka’s article on Peru, Elisabeth Wood’s chapter on El Salvador, and Beatriz Magaloni’s piece on Mexico. By design or result, these chapters contribute relatively less to the broader discussion of causes of democratic survival or deterioration, although they provide interesting information about the particular cases. Tanaka is the most deliberately antideterministic of the authors, but his discussion does demonstrate the importance of factors such as economic performance, popular opinion, and the nature of the party system, which other contributors also emphasize.

Most interesting in Wood’s chapter is her discussion of how El Salvador’s civil war transformed the socioeconomic structure in a way that actually made democracy more feasible, partly by expanding social mobility. Overall, however, the piece suffers from some problems in differentiating the “quality” issues in Salvadoran democracy from the possible causes of that outcome. Magaloni’s chapter analyzes Mexico through game theory, focusing on the choices of and interactions between strategic actors, rather than on the kinds of independent variables emphasized elsewhere in the book. Thus, these arguments are intrinsically less comparable than those of some of the other authors.

Looking at the volume as a whole, a number of lessons stand out. The collective analyses reveal a surprisingly inconsistent relationship between democratic quality and the survival of democracies. “Better” democracies may be more fragile, and the best-intentioned, most inclusive reforms may actually destabilize democratic regimes. Likewise, institutional inadequacies may help sustain newer democracies, perhaps by pacifying potentially antidemocratic sectors. It may be that something as elusive as a democratic political culture-closely related to the political attitudes emphasized by Mainwaring and Hagopian-is essential to allowing the expansion of democracy without threatening its stability.

While explanations for both democratic survival and quality have varied considerably, representation remains central. But instability may occur even with the most representative political party systems and parties if the system lacks the democratic institutions to channel and implement parties’ initiatives. Still, the meaning of “institutions” needs to be clarified as well; as is evident in this volume, structures, rules, and behaviors all constitute elements of the relevant institutional arrangements. In the final analysis, moreover, regime performance cannot be ignored; failed economic policies pressure any regime significantly more than successful ones.

The final message from this book is the extreme difficulty of predicting political outcomes in Latin America. The concept of a consolidated democracy, a regime impervious to the shocks of economic crisis or misdirected reforms, no longer seems to make sense. In Latin American politics, unpredictability is perhaps the most predictable of political outcomes. Categorizing countries according to their level of democratic success therefore seems to be an extremely difficult challenge. Nevertheless, this fine collection of analyses does make an important contribution to our understanding of why democracies might deteriorate or collapse, regardless of whether we can predict when that might actually occur.

Deborah L. Norden

Whittier College

Copyright Latin American Politics and Society Winter 2006

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