Skip to main content

Democracy in Latin America: Analysis and Policy Implications

This event is co-sponsored with the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame.

Date & Time

Mar. 22, 2013
9:00am – 11:00am ET


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Get Directions


At this point in time, the diversity of experiences with democratization in Latin America is too great to permit broad-brush generalizations.  We all celebrate the hemisphere-wide discrediting of military coups as a path to power; the armed forces’ removal of an elected president in Honduras in 2009 was an exception, although power was quickly ceded to civilians.  Ideological conflicts have eased as center-left and center-right regimes converged on the need for a strong state to enhance social welfare while facilitating the dynamism of a market economy.  Since the early 2000s the hemisphere has witnessed historic reductions in poverty and some reductions in inequality, the growth of the middle class, and the engagement of vibrant civil societies in articulating and solving national problems.  Indeed, representative democracy appeared to thrive most fully in some of the countries that had experienced the devastation of democratic breakdown in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged in today’s circumstances.  The profound deficits of representation and consequent collapse of party systems in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have given rise to new forms of populism that explicitly reject liberal, representative democracy in favor of direct and vertical linkages between the leader and “el pueblo,” Polarization and the gutting of checks and balances on executive power characterize politics in these countries.  In some countries, electoral democracy survives amidst new threats—the unprecedented increase in rates of crime and violence abetted but not entirely caused by organized crime.  Rampant citizen insecurity in turn undermines support for democratic systems and expands support for hard-line, mano dura approaches in which the armed forces play a leading role. 

Scott Mainwaring presents a new and counterintuitive analysis of why democracies have emerged and then subsequently broken down or stabilized in Latin America—including a discussion of the role of international influences and actors on democracy in the region.  He analyzes  the recent trajectory of democracy in Latin America, what it portends for the proximate future, and what policy implications derive from his analysis.  Prolific authors and leading scholars of democratic governance Frances Hagopian and Steven Levitsky provide their perspectives on democracy in Latin America and comment on the central questions posed by Mainwaring’s research.

Featuring renowned democratization experts—

  • Scott Mainwaring, University of Notre Dame
  • Frances Hagopian, Harvard University
  • Steven Levitsky, Harvard University

Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center introduces and moderates the panel, and Paolo Carozza of the Kellogg Institute offers closing remarks.


Hosted By

Latin American Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Event Feedback

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.