Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America, 2nd Ed

Article excerpt

Edited by Jorge I. Dominguez and Michael Shifter

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, xix, 450pp, US$59.95 cloth (ISBN 0-8018-7119-0), US$18.95 paper (ISBN 0-8018-7120-4)

Latin America's democratic institutions are demonstrating increasing durability in the face of shocks such as the recent Brazilian and Argentine currency crises. The book under review is a reflection of this development, for it treats the region's politics in terms not unlike those that might be encountered in, say, a text on the politics of the European democracies. Policy outcomes are taken seriously, not as mere window dressing that conceals the workings of shadowy "fuerzas vivas"; they are portrayed as results of repeated interactions among conflicting interest groups, shaped by the dynamics of formal and informal political institutions. Business elites are viewed as legitimate players of the democratic game whose rights merit equal protection. Influence networks are regarded as contingent social facts whose presence, configurations and power can be observed and registered. The state is no longer equated with the executive branch, as, for example, in the model of "delegative democracy"; the legislative branch is recognized as playing a policy role, if hardly a coequal one.

This second edition of Constructing Democratic Governance in Latin America replaces the three-volume set edited by Jorge Dominguez and Abraham F. Lowenthal that was published by Johns Hopkins in 1996. The new volume of 450 pages (87 fewer pages than the original, omitting the latter's 98 pages of introduction and conclusion repeated verbatim in the second and third volumes) consists of six thematic chapters followed by seven country studies. The dropping of Central America, the Caribbean, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay from the list of countries is a loss; but by restricting the studies to the larger, institutionally more advanced countries--Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela--the editors have achieved a closer connection between the cases and the thematic material. However, the connection is still mostly implicit, secured, it appears, by an apt choice of themes rather than close editorial control.

The thematic chapters (the first volume of the previous edition) are entirely new in both content and authorship. They address the presidency and executive-legislative relations (John Carey), the military (Rut Diamint), market reforms (Javier Corrales), the efforts of organized labour (M. Victoria Murillo) and women's movements (Mala N. Htun) to adapt to new political circumstances, and the public's views of government policies and of the quality of the principal political institutions (Marta Lagos). …