In This Review In This Review
Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America (An Inter-American Dialogue Book)
Edited by Jorge I. Dominguez and Michael Shifter
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, 408 pp.
The Resilience of the Latin American Right
Edited by Juan Pablo Luna and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, 392 pp.
Two recent books offer a chance to take stock of the political and ideological state of play in Latin America. Domínguez and Shifter’s volume is full of sharp insights—and some good news. In their summary chapters, the editors applaud Latin American countries’ deepening commitment to democratic institutions; freer, fairer, and more open elections; better governance; innovations in policymaking; and efforts to increase the prominence of women in leadership roles. Of course, many problems remain. The commodities boom of the past decade has strengthened all of the region’s rulers, including those with authoritarian traits. In some countries, narcotics trafficking has fueled gang violence that has overwhelmed law enforcement. As commodity markets cool off, perhaps the most important question across the region is whether democratic governments will be able to meet the rising expectations of their countries’ emerging middle classes. These issues and many others are covered in solid, well-informed chapters on Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. Other chapters explore constitutional reforms, the mass media, security challenges, and the natural resource boom. The writing is sophisticated enough to interest specialists but accessible enough for lay audiences.
The wave of democratic reform and progress in Latin America has posed a challenge to right-wing groups and parties across the region, which can no longer rely on military coups to protect their interests, as they did in the past. And yet conservative politics are still a major force in the region. Luna and Kaltwasser’s volume addresses this puzzle: When opinion polls find that the typical Latin American voter tends toward the left and shares leftists’ preferences for income redistribution and state intervention in the economy, what explains the resilience of the right and its less popular pro-market stances? Taken together, the contributions to this book suggest an answer: the right exercises power by mobilizing technocrats to shape the policymaking process, using the mass media to frame the public agenda, and directly lobbying elected officials. To combat the left’s advantages at the ballot box, the right avoids directly addressing issues of redistribution and wealth and focuses on hot-button questions of morality and religion, law and order, and government corruption. In general, the mostly American and British contributors seem not particularly sympathetic to their subjects—which is unsurprising, since few political scientists educated in the United States or the United Kingdom identify with rightist ideologies in Latin America. Nevertheless, by filling a gap in the scholarly literature, The Resilience of the Latin American Right provides a valuable, wide-ranging survey of the region’s understudied right-wing parties, personalities, and programs.
Source URL: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2014-12-15/constructing-democratic-governance-latin-america-resilience-latin