In This Review

The Deadlock of Democracy in Brazil
The Deadlock of Democracy in Brazil
By Barry Ames
University of Michigan Press, 2001, 392 pp

In this detailed and sophisticated book, Ames locates Brazil's problems squarely in its democratic procedures. Brazil's institutions create an excess of obstruction at all levels, he argues, making reform exceedingly difficult. This inability to craft reforming coalitions is due not only to the many political parties needed for a legislative majority but to the way the federal system works. For example, Brazil's "open list" system of proportional representation can be extremely democratic, but it weakens party control and cohesion. This weakness enhances the power of local bosses, especially at the municipal level, and fuels pork-barrel payoffs and corruption. Ames also takes President Cardoso to task for expending an enormous amount of political capital in 1998 to change the constitution and run for a second term instead of trying to advance his reform agenda. Lacking in this otherwise persuasive analysis is attention to the real power behind the state's institutional arrangements. Ames laments that Brazil's institutions hinder innovation and protect the status quo -- but that is, after all, their purpose. They work very well for those who control them.