Elections and Democracy in Central America - Vol. 8

By John A. Booth; Mitchell A. Seligson | Go to book overview

1 Elections and Democracy in Central America A Framework for Analysis

John A. Booth

M any observers regarded Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo's assumption of the presidency of Guatemala in January 1986 as a signal moment in the history of Central America because it meant that, for the first time in memory, all five isthmian nations had elected governments. This remarkable "outbreak" of elected regimes in the region was part of a larger process underway throughout the hemisphere, as many South American states had also replaced military with elected civilian governments in the last decade ( Drake and Silva, 1986; Malloy and Seligson, 1987; Contemporary Marxism, 1986).

Political scientists have long ignored the elections of Central America, except those of Costa Rica, because they have so often been either fraudulently manipulated or, if properly carried out, later overturned by military coups. It is widely assumed that elections may promote democracy, but for decades dictatorial regimes in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador have periodically held elections that merely reinforced or justified authoritarian rule. Indeed three of the most brutal regimes in Central American history came to power through elections: those of Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza Debayle ( 1967-79), Guatemala's Romeo Lucas Garcia ( 1978-82), and El Salvador's Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero ( 1977-79).

Given the region's checkered electoral past, Central American elections in the 1980s have attracted considerable and sometimes almost astonished international attention. Many nations and nongovernmental organizations, for example, sent delegations to witness the elections in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984, Nicaragua in 1984, and Guatemala in 1985. Several nations and various international political party organizations contributed financial support and technical advice to Central American election agencies and parties.

Among countries outside the region, the United States has taken the liveliest interest in recent Central American elections. The Reagan administration has encouraged and supported -- using diplomatic, financial, and political

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