In This Review

Political Culture and Institutional Development in Costa Rica and Nicaragua
Political Culture and Institutional Development in Costa Rica and Nicaragua
By Consuelo Cruz
Cambridge University Press, 2005, 302 pp

Cruz, the daughter of a leading Nicaraguan political family, ponders this historical puzzle: Why has Costa Rica developed exemplary social democratic institutions while neighboring Nicaragua has suffered endless sectarian violence and ruthless despotism? The Tufts University political scientist finds the answer in national political culture: Costa Rica's identity is wrapped up in democratic civility and social harmony, whereas Nicaraguans suffer from Manichaean nightmares of mutual distrust, betrayal, and defeat. "While Costa Ricans have concentrated optimistically on perfecting their democracy," she writes, "Nicaraguans seem to concentrate on perfecting their pessimism." But Cruz also eschews cultural determinism, cogently arguing, in forceful and sophisticated prose, that perspicacious leaders can rather rapidly remold national cultures and improve political institutions. Nicaragua was on the verge of escaping its perverse past in the early 1990s, when voters ousted the polarizing, authoritarian Sandinistas to experiment with political democracy, and in this year's presidential election, the leading candidates are embracing a new narrative of national reconciliation and institutional renewal. (One complaint: for such a richly researched book, the publishers are to be chastised for omitting a bibliography.)