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Journal of Democracy 14.1 (2003) 170-173
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Latin Democracy, Comprehensively
Mark P. Jones
Democracies in Development: Politics and Reform in Latin America. By J. Mark Payne, Daniel Zovatto G., Fernando Carrillo Flórez, and Andrés Allamand Zavala. Inter-American Development Bank, 2002. 348 pp.
In 1977, the study of how Latin American democratic institutions worked and affected public policy and political stability was a rather esoteric exercise. Among the 20 "core" Latin American countries (meaning ones that were once Iberian colonies), only Colombia, Costa Rica, and Venezuela were democracies.
By 2002, all Latin American countries except Cuba and Haiti were democracies. While the extent of democratization varies considerably across these countries, in every one of them democratic institutions exercise a profound influence. Over the past two decades, even the most ardent skeptics of Latin American democratic institutions have come to realize that these institutions can neither be ignored nor dismissed as irrelevant.
Once we accept that democratic institutions are fundamental to the functioning of politics and society in Latin America, it becomes clear that we must have answers to questions such as: What are the most important institutions? How does the design of these institutions vary? What are the political and social consequences of using different institutions and institutional configurations? [End Page 170]
Answers to these questions are contained in a voluminous academic literature whose general tendency is to concentrate on a subset of these issues (for example, executive-legislative relations, electoral rules, incentives for legislator behavior). The first valuable contribution of Democracies in Development is its impressive review of the extant scholarly literature on democratic institutions in Latin America, thereby providing the reader with a solid understanding of scholarly conventional wisdom on the design and consequences of the key democratic institutions in the region.
To understand political institutions adequately, we also need information on every country. For each of the 18 Latin American democracies the book contains a detailed description of the most relevant constitutional and statutory provisions as well as national election results for the period from 1978 to 2000.
Three groups of scholars will benefit most from the book. One group consists of scholars whose intellectual focus is on Latin America, but whose principal interests lie outside the area of democratic institutions. All members of this group will profit from the review of the existing literature, while those engaged in empirical analysis will especially enjoy the detailed description of the constitutional and electoral design in each country.
Political institutionalists whose area of study is outside Latin America will find that the book offers a convenient way to learn about how the region's democratic institutions function. Political institutionalists whose principal area of study is Latin America will also greatly appreciate the encyclopedic coverage of electoral laws and constitutional provisions.
Policy makers can gain an overview of the different institutional arrangements employed in the region, which in turn will permit a better understanding of the varying incentives under which politicians operate in different countries as well as the distinct constraints (for example, in implementing public policy) that politicians (for example, presidents) in different countries face. The book will help policy makers, especially those in multilateral organizations, interact in a more effective and positive way with Latin American elected officials.
The book is an outstanding resource for students. It is, for example, ideal for undergraduate and graduate courses on Latin American politics and on comparative democracies. I can think of no better book with which to introduce the general study of political institutions in Latin America.
Given space limitations, I cannot adequately describe the immense contributions of the book. I thus limit myself to detailing its core contents (11 chapters and three appendices) and highlighting some of its most prominent conclusions.
Chapter 1 makes the convincing argument that politics and political institutions have important consequences for development. My only quibble is with the use of Freedom House scores of political rights and [End Page 171] civil liberties to measure the evolution of democracy in the region. In my work with Scott Gates, Håvard Hegre, and Håvard Strand, we conclude that...