Tag Archives: democracy

“Learn from these remarkable leaders”

Guest post by Abraham F. Lowenthal and Sergio Bitar

bitarDemocratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, to be published next month by Johns Hopkins University Press, began as an initiative by Vidar Helgesen, then Secretary-General of International IDEA—an intergovernmental organization of 28 member countries, based in Stockholm, that promotes sustainable democracy worldwide. Mr. Helgesen observed that International IDEA’s work had focused sharply on strengthening the procedures and techniques of democratic governance: the preparation, conduct, counting and monitoring of elections; the selection of candidates; the oversight of campaign finance and media access; and expanding the rights and participation of women in politics. But International IDEA had not provided insights into how authoritarian rule is brought to an end and transitions toward democracy achieved, though these are prerequisites to the democracy promotion work that IDEA carries out.

At a time when the Arab Spring was underway and other transitions to democracy were contemplated or foreseeable elsewhere, Helgesen suggested that it would be useful to learn how prior transitions from authoritarian rule were achieved. He suggested that this could be done by interviewing actors who had been at the apex of successful democratic transitions in several countries that moved from authoritarian rule of diverse types toward democracy. He invited us to undertake this project jointly, with international IDEA’s support. We are long-term friends with complementary experiences in the worlds of politics and policy, as well as academic analysis. We also share a commitment to the construction of sustainable democracy.

Political actors who are now seeking to help their countries move from autocracy toward democracy—whether in Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar, Cuba, Venezuela or elsewhere—could learn a great deal from prior experiences, especially from “success stories.” But to suggest that they simply consult the established political science texts on democratic transitions, including some Johns Hopkins University Press classics, would not be useful. Those volumes were written by academic political scientists for other scholars, not for busy practitioners in search of practical insights. Current political actors would likely not take the time to read volumes that are often presented in academic jargon and that emphasize disciplinary techniques rather than tough political choices.

If it were somehow possible to bring experienced political leaders who have managed democratic transitions to visit those nations that are now near such transitions, current politicians would no doubt want to learn from such peers. They would enjoy talking with practitioners about what strategies and tactics they developed, what unexpected obstacles arose, how they confronted these, what dilemmas they found most difficult, and how these were resolved.

Bringing wise but aging transition leaders of the last generation to visit Cairo, Tunis, Havana, Caracas or Naypyidaw (in Myanmar) would not be practical, however. We aimed to provide a second-best approach, by undertaking well-prepared and probing interviews with important transition leaders: Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Patricio Aylwin and Ricardo Lagos of Chile, John Kufuor and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, B. J. Habibie of Indonesia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fidel Ramos of the Philippines, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland, F. W. deKlerk and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and Felipe González of Spain.

We sought the advice of leading academic authorities on each case to help us understand the history and context of each transition and identify the principal issues that arose. We did not administer a questionnaire but rather engaged the leaders in dynamic conversations about their experiences, how they worked, what their toughest choices were, how and why they made them, and how they learned. The resulting interviews do not present rigorous comparative political science, but they illuminate agency and decision-making in ways that are often obscured by other methods of analysis. Most comparative politics texts downplay the role of political leadership; this book emphasizes and illustrates it.

We know of no comparable source of practical insights and considered judgments on the challenges democratic transitions pose and how these have been successfully confronted. The seniority of most of the leaders we interviewed makes it unlikely that others will have this opportunity to learn from so many successful transition-makers.

We hope our book will be valuable for politicians and political parties; officials of governments, non-governmental organizations, social movements and international institutions; journalists; scholars and students; and all who want to understand, conduct or support successful transitions to democracy. We are grateful to International IDEA’s current Secretary-General Yves Leterme for helping to ensure that the book will be widely available, published in Arabic, French, Spanish, Dutch and possibly in Burmese and other languages. We invite readers to follow in our footsteps and learn from these remarkable leaders.

Sergio Bitar is a Chilean political leader and public intellectual. He served as minister in the governments of Salvador Allende, Ricardo Lagos, and Michelle Bachelet. He was also a senator and served as the president of the Party for Democracy. He is the president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy and the director of the Project on Global Trends and Latin America’s Future at the Inter-American Dialogue.  Abraham F. Lowenthal, a widely-published scholar, is professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Southern California, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an adjunct professor at Brown University’s Watson Institute. He was the founding director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

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Democracy in Decline?

Guest post by Condoleezza Rice

To celebrate the recent publication of Democracy in Decline?, edited by the Journal of Democracy’s Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, we are pleased to offer this excerpt from the book’s Foreword by Condoleezza Rice. Don’t miss this collection of essays by eight of the world’s leading public intellectuals and scholars of democracy—Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Philippe C. Schmitter, Steven Levitsky, Lucan Way, Thomas Carothers, and editors Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner.

diamond15For the past quarter-century, the Journal of Democracy has helped the world to understand the controlled chaos that is democracy. Like the many scholars who have written for the Journal, I care deeply about the fate of this system of governance that protects liberty and have studied its ups and downs.

In more recent years, as secretary of state, I found myself defending the proposition that all people should live in freedom and that US policies should reflect that belief. It was not difficult to get agreement to the principle. Yes, it was best if human beings could say what they thought, worship as they pleased, be free from the arbitrary power of the state, and have a say in who would govern them. After all, who would argue that some people should be condemned to live in tyranny?

Yet if one scratched the surface, there was rampant skepticism that democracy is right everywhere, at all times, and for all peoples. One was reminded that cultural explanations once branded Africans as too tribal, Asians too Confucian, and Latin Americans too drawn to caudillos to create stable democracies. Those arguments now belong to the past, but a hint of them hangs over the discussion of the events in the Middle East. The Arab Spring has led to disappointment, and democracy seems overmatched by sectarianism, state collapse, and a palpable nostalgia for a more orderly, if authoritarian, time.

But it is undeniable that democracy retains its power to appeal to those who do not yet enjoy its benefits. People are willing to face persecution and imprisonment, exile, and even death just for a chance to live a life in liberty, even in the chaotic Middle East.

 * * * * *

So what should democracy advocates do? Since its first issue, the Journal has provided insights on this question for students, scholars, and policymakers alike. The essays in this volume will advance and challenge your thoughts about the prospects of democracy today. We are reminded that those who believe in the enterprise must find a better way to assist in building state-capacity. We are challenged to find ways to use foreign aid to support efficiency and transparency of young governments. We are cautioned not to think that the long arc of history will inevitably favor freedom.

We can certainly do better in supporting new democratic states and helping them to govern more effectively. But most likely, we will also need to find an abundance of patience. It is not easy for people who have just seized their rights to write rules of the political game that are fair and transparent. It is not easy for majorities to use their newly won freedoms to advocate for the rights of minorities. It is not easy for traditional patriarchal societies to accept the idea that the protection of individual rights must be gender neutral. And it is not easy for people to put aside painful, and often violent, societal divides and learn to trust impartial institutions and the rule of law to resolve differences.

Still, count me as optimistic about democracy’s future. Alternatives might earn some temporary legitimacy by providing efficient governance in the short run. But eventually there will be challenges and problems and popular pressure for a different course: That is the authoritarian’s nightmare, because—unlike in democracies—there is no peaceful way for the people to change the government.

We must also maintain historical perspective, recognizing the remarkable geographic reach of democracy’s march over the past decades. Chile and Colombia, Senegal and Ghana, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia have given an answer to those who thought that democracy could take root only where Europe’s Enlightenment had prepared the ground.

And Americans, of all people, should be patient. The odds were surely long that the descendants of slaves would win their rights through appeal to the US Constitution that once counted their ancestors as three-fifths of a man. That is a recent development, of course. We have just celebrated fifty years since Selma and the Voting Rights Act, marking the United States’ second democratic transition.

So, while those of us who are lucky enough to live in freedom have the right to question its promise, we should not forget that people who do not yet enjoy its benefits still seem determined to win it. That is the greatest reason for optimism that democracy is not permanently in decline. And it is a call to redouble our commitment to the proposition that no one should live in tyranny—even if the road ahead is hard and long.

Condoleezza Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State.

Use promo code HDPD to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy of Democracy in Decline? on our website or by calling 800-537-5487.

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Fall books preview: politics, behavior, & public health

Fall 2015 very largeWe’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this fall—and pleased to share this series of “Fall Books Preview” blog posts! Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Fall 2015 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on pre-pub orders. Today we continue with a selection of our forthcoming books in politics, behavior, and public health:

formisano15Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor
Ronald P. Formisano

Ronald P. Formisano surveys the widening circle of inequality’s effects, the exploitation of the poor and the middle class, and the new ways that predators take money out of Americans’ pockets while passive federal and state governments stand by. This data-driven book offers insight into the fallacy of widespread opportunity, the fate of the middle class, and the mechanisms that perpetuate income disparity.

“An accessible overview of recent trends in economic inequality. Formisano has a gift for presenting abstract information in compelling, even gripping, terms.”—Angus Burgin, Johns Hopkins University, author of The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression

Available in September

perryKiller Apes, Naked Apes, and Just Plain Nasty People: The Misuse and Abuse of Science in Political Discourse
Richard J. Perry

We like to think that science always illuminates. But the disturbing persistence of the concept of biological determinism—the false idea that human behavior is genetically fixed or inherently programmed and therefore is not susceptible to rapid change—shows that scientific research and concepts can be distorted to advance an inhumane and sometimes deadly political agenda. Anthropologist Richard J. Perry delivers a scathing critique of determinism. Exploring the historical context and enduring popularity of the movement over the past century and a half, he debunks the facile and the reductionist thinking of so many popularizers of biological determinism while considering why biological explanations have resonated in ways that serve to justify deeply conservative points of view.

“I read Richard Perry’s thought-provoking book in a single sitting. Written in a lively, engaging style, the book takes evolutionary psychology to task in a perceptive and penetrating fashion.”—Paul Farber, Oregon State University, author of Mixing Races: From Scientific Racism to Modern Evolutionary Ideas

Available in September

barrIntroduction to Biosocial Medicine: The Social, Psychological, and Biological Determinants of Human Behavior and Well-Being
Donald A. Barr, MD, PhD

While 40 percent of premature deaths in the United States can be attributed to such dangerous behaviors as smoking, overeating, inactivity, and drug or alcohol use, medical education has generally failed to address how these behaviors are influenced by social forces. This new textbook from Dr. Donald A. Barr was designed in response to the growing recognition that physicians need to understand the biosocial sciences behind human behavior in order to be effective practitioners. Introduction to Biosocial Medicine explains the determinants of human behavior and the overwhelming impact of behavior on health.

“A compelling, clearly written, and original review of how social factors influence well-being, this timely and accessible book will greatly benefit students who intend to pursue further study in medicine.”—Mark J. Graham, Yale School of Medicine

 Available in January 2016

diamond15Democracy in Decline?
edited by Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner. essays by Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Larry Diamond, Thomas Carothers, Marc F. Plattner, Philippe C. Schmitter, Steven Levitsky, and Lucan Way
foreword by Condoleezza Rice

For almost a decade, Freedom House’s annual survey has highlighted a decline in democracy in most regions of the globe. While some analysts draw upon this evidence to argue that the world has entered a “democratic recession,” others dispute that interpretation, emphasizing instead democracy’s success in maintaining the huge gains it made during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Discussion of this question has moved beyond disputes about how many countries should be classified as democratic to embrace a host of wider concerns about the health of democracy: the poor economic and political performance of advanced democracies, the new self-confidence and assertiveness of a number of leading authoritarian countries, and a geopolitical weakening of democracies relative to these resurgent authoritarians.

Available in October

wuForging Trust Communities: How Technology Changes Politics
Irene S. Wu

Irene S. Wu’s Forging Trust Communities argues that the Internet, and the technologies that predate it, catalyze political change by creating new opportunities for cooperation. The Internet does not simply enable faster and easier communication, but makes it possible for people around the world to interact closely, reciprocate favors, and build trust. The information and ideas exchanged by members of these cooperative communities become key sources of political power akin to military might and economic strength.

“Accessible and engaging, Wu’s book merges the practical with the scholarly to embed the current, Internet-led information revolution’s effects on collective action and governance within a historical perspective, weaving together a wealth of diverse and expansive cases.”—Catie Snow Bailard, George Washington University, author of Democracy’s Double-Edged Sword: How Internet Use Changes Citizens’ Views of Their Government

Available in July

reshRethinking the Administrative Presidency: Trust, Intellectual Capital, and Appointee-Careerist Relations in the George W. Bush Administration
William G. Resh

Why do presidents face so many seemingly avoidable bureaucratic conflicts? And why do these clashes usually intensify toward the end of presidential administrations, when a commander-in-chief’s administrative goals tend to be more explicit and better aligned with their appointed leadership’s prerogatives? In Rethinking the Administrative Presidency, William G. Resh considers these complicated questions from an empirical perspective.

“In this theoretically and empirically sophisticated book, Bill Resh makes important contributions to our understanding of the role of political appointees in advancing presidential policy agendas. His analysis demonstrates that political appointees who approach the career services with distrust will find distrust mirrored back to them.”—James P. Pfiffner, George Mason University, author of The Managerial Presidency

Available in December

bitarDemocratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders
edited by Sergio Bitar and Abraham F. Lowenthal

National leaders who played key roles in transitions to democratic governance reveal how these were accomplished in Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Spain. Commissioned by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), these interviews shed fascinating light on how repressive regimes were ended and democracy took hold.

The book includes probing conversations with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Patricio Aylwin, Ricardo Lagos, John Kufuor, Jerry Rawlings, B. J. Habibie, Ernesto Zedillo, Fidel V. Ramos, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, F. W. de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki, and Felipe González.

Available in September

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What democracy looks like

Guest Post by Jessica Choppin Roney

Jessica Choppin Roney’s Governed by a Spirit of Opposition, recipient of the The Athenaeum of Philadelphia Book Prize for 2014, will be among the new titles on display in JHUP’s exhibit at the Organization of American Historian’s annual meeting taking place in St. Louis from April 16 to 19. 

RoneypostedI’ve always been struck at political rallies by the chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” It moves the march beyond whatever cause the protesters espouse to connect it to the very fundamentals of participatory government. It reminds nay-sayers who might prefer that protesters remain silent that democracy is cacophonous, contested, messy.

In a similar spirit, this is what the origins of democracy look like:

1701: William Penn, his back to the Delaware River. One of the last captains willing to make the Atlantic crossing before the winter waits impatiently for him to board so they can cast off. Faced with a set of uncompromising Quakers, Penn hastily signs a document erecting the Philadelphia Corporation and giving a tiny fraction of its citizens a municipal charter.

1727: A leading Pennsylvania politician worries about a shadowy group of young men meeting in secret. He fears they are plotting against the government. In fact, journeyman printer Benjamin Franklin and his “most . . . ingenious Acquaintances” gather to drink and discuss natural philosophy and civic improvement projects. Their conversations lead them to found first a library, then a fire company. And then one day, a militia.

1747: French privateers are on the Delaware Bay raiding. Philadelphians fear their city will be next, but the pacifist government will do nothing to defend its own citizens. Benjamin Franklin organizes an extralegal militia; half the men of the Quaker City join. It is independent and has no ties to government.

1776: Nineteen days after voters at the polls have rejected independence-minded representatives, a crowd of four thousand meets in the pouring rain and declares this same government invalid. They decide to dissolve it and form a new state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

1777: Twenty Philadelphia Quakers whose loyalty to the new government is suspect but who have committed no actual crime and who have had no charges brought against them, no trial, no opportunity to defend themselves, are jailed and then deported to Virginia.

I subtitled my book The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia. In the book, I use the rich, tangled stories of Philadelphia to explore how ordinary white men shaped their communities before the American Revolution. Most histories argue that only with the Revolution did middle- and lower-class men engage meaningfully in politics or governance. Before the Revolution, they talked, voted, and occasionally rioted—and these are all important avenues of participation. But my book argues that in urban, cosmopolitan Philadelphia, ordinary men did more.

They pioneered ongoing, concrete participation through voluntary associations ranging from libraries to militias, hospitals to diplomatic missions—all of them outside the bounds or control of formal government. In 1770, at least one in five adult white men participated in the more than sixty-five organizations active in the city; at mid-century, that number was closer to one in two. These organizations expanded the ways men could shape their community. At the same time they were predicated upon exclusion and ignoring nonmembers who might disagree. They came into direct tension and competed with imperial officials, municipal authorities, and popularly elected representatives. This origins story is far older than the Revolution, and it is rooted in diverse imperatives: public-spirited initiative and self-serving agendas; deliberative democracy and pragmatic shortcuts; inclusion and exclusion. This is what the origins of democracy looked like. It too was cacophonous, contested, messy.

Jessica Choppin Roney is an assistant professor of early American history at Temple University. She is the author of Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia, now available from Johns Hopkins.

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Taking to the streets and to the internet in Hong Kong

Guest post by Catie Snow Bailard

After four weeks of protest and occupation, which at times have drawn tens of thousands of participants, face-to-face talks between government officials and protest leaders appear to be yielding results. Chinese officials have promised both to issue a public report documenting the protesters’ sentiments and to provide a platform for discussing electoral issues and other concerns of the pro-democracy movement.  In the spirit of democracy, protest organizers are preparing to hold an online straw poll, originally scheduled for October 26th, enabling protesters to vote on whether to accept the government’s proposal. Regardless of the the vote’s result, however, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement intends to continue the occupation.  Led by the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Occupy Central, the dissidents are demanding universal suffrage and that the government retract its recent mandate that all candidates running in the 2017 election for Chief Executive be approved by a government committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.

A quick Google news search reveals the degree to which the Internet has been vital in the organization of the Umbrella Movement, from marshaling and demonstrating support for the movement to documenting police activities and holding government officials accountable for its responses to the protests and occupation. Movement leaders have also used the Internet to publicly issue their demands, and officials have responded in kind, online. Even the hacktivisit group Anonymous threw its hat into the ring, hacking into Hong Kong and Beijing government websites to release sensitive information about the protests into China (where news coverage is highly skewed against the protesters).

Activist movements, such as the one in Hong Kong, highlight the integral role that the Internet and modern day communication technologies, such as smart phones, play in organizing and implementing protests.  For example, smart phones reduce reliance on “brittle planning,” which characterized the types of plans that rely on traditional landline telephones. Whereas protesters previously had to rely primarily on word-of-mouth once they left their homes, mobile phones have greatly diminished this limitation—protesters now use mobile phones to send texts and post messages through social media to change protest venues, tactics, or timing in response to changing circumstances.  Smart phones also yield essential visibility for the movement to audiences outside of the protest movements, particularly with photographs and videos.  Pictures and video posted to social media have been key to rallying support from both domestic and international sources, reporting developments from the ground, and documenting police abuses.

As these protests take center stage, there is one important component of the role that these technologies play in such movements that tends to be largely overlooked—their effect before protesters take to the streets.  While it is clearly important to understand how Internet use can streamline political organization once people are moved to action—which up until now has been the primary focus of scholarly research—the discipline has paid less attention to whether Internet use influences citizens at the foundational, antecedent stage of political action.

The Internet’s capacity to alter the information and expectations that shape citizens’ evaluations of their government can, and often does, lead to political organization and action.  After all, the impetus to act politically—from day-to-day civic activities to the more extreme cases of protest and revolution—begins in the minds of men and women. Democracy’s Double-Edged Sword examines how Internet use influences citizens’ evaluations of their governments’ performance, particularly how Internet use and digital era communication affects the quality of democratic practices available in a given nation. In this vein, I argue that Internet use meaningfully alters not only the quantity and range of information but also the criteria through which individuals evaluate their governments—shaping their evaluations and satisfaction accordingly. This is an important consideration, since it is these evaluations that can and will encourage men and women to act and organize toward political ends.

The findings uncovered by my research substantiate the Internet’s clear, consistent, and considerable influence on democratic satisfaction and related evaluations. Whereas the Internet is correlated with enhanced satisfaction in advanced democracies, its use depresses satisfaction in nations with weak democratic practices—the types of evaluations that can foment and focus public discontent that fuels protest movements, such as Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. However, further findings yielded by my research also reveal that one democratic gain, such as more critical evaluations of poorly performing governments, does not automatically set off a chain of entirely pro-democratic gains in citizens’ attitudes and behaviors. Rather, the Internet’s influence on evaluations, and subsequently on behavior, is a complex, contextually dependent process that in some instances will prove a double-edged sword for democracy and democratization.


CatiBailarde Snow Bailard is an assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and the author of Democracy’s Double-Edged Sword, published by Johns Hopkins.  An interview with Bailard can be read here.  To register for Professor Bailard’s November 3rd GWU book talk click here.


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Mobilizing Democracy: from Dictatorship to Neoliberalism

Guest Post by Paul Almeida

My first encounter with Central America came in the late 1980s when I volunteered with a local immigration agency. Northern California’s Monsignor Oscar A. Romero Central American Refugee Committee (MOARC) aided refugees, most of whom were fleeing El Salvador’s decade-long civil war. While a volunteer, I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador as hostilities were winding down in one of the final conflicts of the Cold War. Once in the country, I vividly recall hearing the term “neoliberalism” for the first time as I sat in a press conference held by El Salvador’s leading labor umbrella organization while heavily armed state security forces waited outside. The unions criticized the new political party that had recently taken power for aggressively shrinking the public sector and an already feeble welfare state. Though the labor union speeches left a strong impression on me as a young adult (I was twenty-two years old), I failed at the time to realize both the significance of this new seemingly jargon-laden term, “neoliberalism,” and the historically transformative moment. Nonetheless, the experience would mark my scholarly trajectory for the next twenty-plus years.

The overly zealous military surveillance of the peaceful labor union press conference represented the state repression suffered by much of Central America in the twentieth century. “Neoliberalism” would symbolize the future economic path forward for the isthmus as the region transitioned to democratic forms of governance. My first book, Waves of Protest: Popular Struggle in El Salvador, largely focused on explaining the mobilizations against dictatorship and authoritarianism that characterized so much of the past history of Latin America. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, as I spent my time deeply entrenched in the archives of Salvadoran libraries collecting materials to complete this first book (often in basements and floors below ground level), major nonviolent street protests were erupting above ground over the implementation of a whole new species of economic measures, especially privatization of the public sector and infrastructure. The activists on the streets grouped these economic measures together into what they called el neoliberalismo. A noticeable shift also occurred in the political graffiti on the walls of the cities and towns from “abajo la dictadura” and “no más desaparecidos” to “no a la privatización.”

I soon discovered from press reports and my travels to Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica that these types of citizen protests against el neoliberalismo were not only breaking out in El Salvador, but also throughout Central America as international financial institutions and local political and economic elites exceedingly placed pressure on governments to reduce state and social welfare investments. By the mid-2000s, several nations witnessed the largest popular demonstrations in their recent histories over issues related to economic liberalization such as privatization, free trade, and labor flexibility laws. Multiple demonstrations of over 100,000 people took place over privatization of health care, social security, telecommunications, and energy in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama. Between 2003 and 2007, major national level protests occurred in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala over free trade. At this same time, much of the national territory of Honduras and Nicaragua became engulfed in mobilizations against the privatization of water and sewage services. Not only were these dramatic protest demonstrations massive in size, they also incorporated several social sectors from civil society such as students, public sector employees, unions, women’s groups, NGOs, oppositional political parties, and environmentalists. If the twentieth century battle in Central America centered on liberating people from authoritarian regimes, then clearly the fault-line in the early twenty-first century appears to be over free market reforms and the pace of economic globalization.

Since so much scholarly and mass media attention had been given to these types of economic conflicts in South America, especially the cases of Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, I set out on a mission to document and explain the distribution of these anti-neoliberal campaigns in Central America. After another decade of gathering archival data and conducting over forty interviews with the key protagonists leading the protest campaigns during field research in all six Central American countries, my second book, Mobilizing Democracy: Globalization and Citizen Protest, was born.

While the breakdown of state-supported economies has conditioned the course of Central American nations for more than three decades and driven the defensive mobilizations highlighted in Mobilizing Democracy, a number of other outcomes related to neoliberalism are just as deserving of future scholarship. With poverty rates in the region hovering between 30 and 70 percent and near majorities working in the precarious informal sector of the economy, the alarming levels of societal violence and mass immigration out of northern Central America could also be approached and better understood from empirically tracing the severe social displacement and economic exclusion from the orthodox implementation of neoliberal policies. Such an undertaking may well assist in explaining, and potentially addressing, the current “push factors” compelling tens of thousands of children and young mothers from Central America to risk the perils of migrating over land to the United States.


Almeida_Mobilizing DemocracyPaul Almeida is an associate professor of sociology and interim chair of the graduate group in social sciences at the University of California, Merced. He is the author of Mobilizing Democracy: Globalization and Citizen Protest.

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