Latin American Politics

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Dr. Andrew Clem
E-mail: e-mail
Telephone: 555-1234
Office: 999 Thornbuckle Hall

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Enjoy the summer!

Recent news

To get articles from the Washington Post more than two weeks old, you would need to set up a special ($) account, so I will simply delete the news article links after two weeks.

Course description

This course is intended to provide students with an in-depth understanding of current and past political changes in Latin America, both in the region as a whole and in the 20 nations that make it up. We will begin the course by examining the historical developments that led to the formation of nation-states in Latin America: the pre-Columbian (Indian) civilizations; the Catholic religion; and the links to Spain, Portugal, and France dating back to the colonial era. We will then address the basic issues related to comparative politics, such as democratization, state institutions and authority, regime changes, and ideologies. In the next part of the course we will apply the tools of comparative analysis to examine the political systems in the various countries on an individual basis. Finally, we will study international relations in Latin America and discuss contemporary policy issues such as debt, narcotics, poverty, and future prospects.


Howard Wiarda and Harvey Kline (eds.), Latin American Politics and Development, 5th ed. (Westview, 2000)

Forrest D. Colburn, Latin America at the End of Politics (Princeton University Press, 2002)
~ A series of essays on various subjects by a leading political scientist, linked by the common theme that the old ideological controversies in Latin America are no longer relevant.

Alma Guillermoprieto, Looking for History (Vintage, 2002) ~ Observations of daily life in various Latin American countries by a respected New York Times correspondent who was born in Mexico.

Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World (Houghton-Mifflin / Mariner, 1992) ~ A beautifully illustrated cultural history of the Ibero-American civilization by a renowned novelist. Note that some of the chapters deal with Spain, not Latin America.

In addition, there will be occasional assignments of feature news stories and/or opinion-editorial pieces in the Washington Post or other newspapers or magazines. All students should read such a nationally-recognized newspaper to keep up with current events in Latin America. There will be a few current events questions on the quizzes and exams.


For any of the Latin America maps (NOT the South America or Central America maps), just click on any of the countries covered in this course to go to their respective sections below.

Latin America

Topics & countries

This section serves as a preview of the topics and countries covered in each successive week. It supplements material found in the Wiarda & Kline textbook ("W & K"), but does not summarize it.


Jan. 13: Ch. 1-2 Regional overview

Jan. 20: Ch. 3-4 Institutions & policy

Jan. 27: Ch. 5* The Latin American tradition and the struggle for democracy
* (plus the early chapters of Colburn, Guillermoprieto, OR Fuentes)


To compare basic facts and key aspects of each country, you can jump from one section to another by clicking on the name abbreviation links above each flag. For each country there is a color-coded table of major political parties and their leaders, along with each party's percentage share of seats in the lower house of the legislature. Right-vs.-left positions indicate each party's approximate ideological orientation, but note that in some cases such descriptions are imprecise because the parties' own political stance is often rather nebulous. Minor parties are not shown.

Argentina flag

Feb. 3: Ch. 6 Argentina

President Population GDP per capita
Nestor Kirchner
37 million $10,200

Socialist Union Radical Civic Union Justicialista / Peronista
Fernando de la Rua Nestor Kirchner
(& Eduardo Duhalde, Carlos Menem)
2% 32% 50%
Party Web site
en español

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Civil wars; Econ. boom, Baring crisis Democratization, military coups Econ. boom, bust; military coups Dirty war, Malvinas war, hyperinflation Neoliberal reform, scandals
KEY LEADERS: Rosas Irigoyen Peron Videla Menem

Brazil flag

Feb. 10: Ch. 7 Brazil

President Population GDP per capita
Luiz Inacio ("Lula") da Silva
178 million $7,600

Workers Democratic Workers Brazilian Democratic Movement Liberal Party of National Reconstruction
"Lula" da Silva Hernando Enrique Cardoso
35%? 9% 22% 18% 8%

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Empire replaced by Republic "New State,"
World War II
Modernization; military government Democratization, hyperinflation Neoliberal reform, scandals
KEY LEADERS: Emperor Pedro II Vargas Kubitschek Geisel Cardoso

Chile flag

Feb. 17: Ch. 8 Chile

President Population GDP per capita
Michelle Bachelet
16 million $10,000

Communist Socialist Christian Democrat National Renewal
Ricardo Lagos

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
War of Pacific (expansion); Civil war Democratization, military coups Stability, progress; socialism, bloody coup Dirty war, neoliberal "shock" reform Democratization
KEY LEADERS: Portales Alessandri Frei, Allende Pinochet Frei

Colombia flag

Feb. 24: Ch. 9 Colombia

President Population GDP per capita
Alvaro Uribe
44 million $6,500

Democratic Alliance M-19 New Democratic Force Liberal Conservative / Movement of National Salvation

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Breakup of "Great Colombia," solitude Civil war, econ. growth "La Violencia" (1948-1957) Guerrilla war, narcotics Guerrilla war, narcotics, U.S. role
KEY LEADERS: Bolivar Gaitan Rojas Pinilla Gaviria

Peru flag

Mar. 2: Ch. 10 Peru

President Population GDP per capita
Alan Garcia
27 million $4,800

We Are Peru /
Democratic Cause
APRA: American Popular Revolutionary Alliance Independent Reform Front Peru Possible National Unity
[Popular Christian]
Henry Pease Garcia Alan Garcia Fernando Olivera Alejandro Toledo Lourdes Flores Nano
5.8% 19.7% 11.0% 26.3% 13.8%

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Guano boom; War of Pacific Social tumult, military coups Military coups, radical reforms Debt crisis, hyperinflation Neoliberal reform, scandals
KEY LEADERS: Castilla Leguia Odria, Velasco Belaunde, Garcia Fujimori

Bolivia flag

Mar. 16: Ch. 14 Bolivia

President Population GDP per capita
Evo Morales
9 million $2,500

Movement Toward Socialism Revolutionary Leftist Movement National Revolutionary Movement National Democratic Action New Republican Force
Evo Morales Jaime Paz Zamora Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada Roberto MacLean Manfred Reyes Villa

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
War of Pacific: loss of Pacific seacoast Chaco War, Revolution Military coups Debt crisis, hyper- inflation, neoliberalism Progress and stability...
KEY LEADERS: Paz Estenssoro, Banzer Meza, Paz Estenssoro Paz Zamora, Banzer

Venezuela flag

Mar. 23: Ch. 11 Venezuela

President Population GDP per capita
Hugo Chavez
(1999- ? )
26 million $5,500

Bolivarian Revolutionary Party Radical Cause Democratic Action Christian Socialist (COPEI)
Hugo Chavez

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
None Oil exports, econ. growth Econ. boom, decline Econ. crisis, attempted coups
KEY LEADERS: Bolivar Gomez Jimenez Perez C. A. Perez C. A. Perez

Mexico flag

Mar. 30: Ch. 16 Mexico

President Population GDP per capita
Felipe Calderon
103 million $9,000

Party of Democratic Revolution Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) National Action Party
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Francisco Labastida Ochoa Vicente Fox
95 seats 224 seats 152 seats

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Loss of Texas & Calif.; Liberal reforms Revolution, nationalization of oil Econ. growth, stability Debt crisis, inflation NAFTA, political reform
KEY LEADERS: Santa Anna, Juarez, Cardenas Echeverria de la Madrid Salinas

Cuba flag

Apr. 6: Ch. 17 Cuba

President Population GDP per capita
Fidel Castro
(1959- ? )
11 million $2,300

Fidel Castro

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Colony of Spain until U.S. war in 1898 U.S. occupation; Platt Amendment Revolution, missile crisis Intervention in Africa, econ. stagnation Decay
KEY LEADERS: Marti Batista Castro

Guatemala flag

Apr. 13: Ch. 21 Guatemala

President Population GDP per capita
Oscar Berger
12 million $3,700

  1800-1899 1900-1949 1950-1974 1975-1989 1990-1999
Growing social tensions Leftist reforms halted by CIA-aided coup Guerrilla war, repression
KEY LEADERS: Carrera Arbenz Arevalo, Rios Montt, Cerezo


Apr. 20 Economic and social policy

Apr. 27 Foreign relations


The table below explains in detail all the assignments that will be used to determine your grade for the course. It does not list separately the in-class essays, All exams will consist entirely of objective questions (multiple choice, matching, true/false), with the answers entered on optically scanned sheets. Bring your own #2 pencil! Students must sign and return their question sheets, or else they will not get credit for the exam. There is a penalty of 10% per week for late quizzes, exams, or individual assignments, unless the student provides a written excuse from a doctor or other responsible party. Students must notify the professor immediately if they anticipate not being able to take exams or fulfill other class requirements on time.

In-class essays

Every two or three weeks ten minutes will be set aside during which students will write paragraph-length essays about the current week's country or topic. The professor will ask a specific question about the subject, testing the students' understanding of the issue, rather than simple knowledge of facts.

Book discussion

Every student will choose one of the "optional required" books and participate in two discussions about it. As part of this exercise, students should write a report (about two pages in length) that briefly summarizes the main theme(s) of each chapter. This report should conclude with a long paragraph that responds to the main points that the author was trying to make (was it persuasive or not?) and then evaluates the positive and negative aspects of the book.

BOOK: Feb. 3 Mar. 18 Apr. 1
Buried Mirror
Ch. 1, 5, 6, 9, 11, & 12 Ch. 13, 14, 15, 16, 18
End of Politics?
Ch. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 10 Ch. 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Looking for History
"Eva Peron," "Che Guevara," "Colombia," & "Mario Vargas Llosa" "Cuba," "Mexico"

Research project

Students have two general options for outside research, and the decision depends on their own prior course work and their future plans. In either case, the total amount of written material should be about 10 to 12 pages. All topic choices are subject to approval in advance by the professor. Whenever doing outside research, it is extremely important to keep tabs with the professor, to avoid wasted effort and to make sure you stay focused on a topic that can be addressed adequately in the paper. That is the purpose of the prospectus (see below). The research project is worth 15% of the final grade.

OPTION A: Policy briefings

These are short papers (3-5 doubled-spaced pages) that should focus on current issues such as narcotics interdiction, trade policy, or democratization, either in one country, a subregion, or Latin America overall. They should summarize the background of the particular issue, emphasizing the controversies that exist in the policy-making world. Policy briefings should carefully weigh the differing points of view and should conclude with a recommendation based on facts and sound reasoning. Students who choose this option should consult with the professor to schedule their projects throughout the semester. One of the policy briefings should be submitted BEFORE spring break.

OPTION B: Term paper

This "traditional" research project (total length of 10-12 doubled-spaced pages) is focused not on the advocacy of particular policies, but rather on broader academic issues. Ideally, they should focus on politics in a single country or subregion (such as the Andes), or about some general topic (such as democratization), but other suggestions will be considered. Some students may wish to focus on some specific problem in the country, or about some particular historical era. Students should become familiar with the country or issue, they should come up with a working hypothesis to guide their research. Properly designed research papers can lead to significant conclusions that may serve to persuade policy makers. Thus, this project is an opportunity to learn and apply social science research methods, and it should not be taken lightly. The rewards, however, may be great, in terms of in preparation for graduate level work, or to qualify for a job with a policy research organization. For students who are curious but lack previous knowledge about the country they are studying, one or more of the recommended books listed in the syllabus would be a good place to begin research. The professor will help students clarify the topic in order to narrow down the list of materials they need to research. You should probably use about 10 to 15 books and/or journal articles as reference materials.

Research prospectus

Whichever option is chosen, the prospectus should begin with one short paragraph describing one's own interests in the country or the topic. Have you been there? What motivates your interest? For those who are doing the policy briefings option, there should be one medium paragraph on each of the proposed topics, keeping in mind that you have a limited space to address the topic. For those who are doing the term paper option, there should be an outline that will serve as the organizational structure of the paper, with explanations for each detailed line, where necessary. For either option, you should explain what kinds of books or articles you intend to read, and at the end, list (in single-spaced format) a few preliminary sources you have come across. The main body of your prospectus should be 1.5 line spacing, preferably in 12 point Times Roman font, with 1 inch margins (NOT 1.5 inch). Try to keep everything to within one page, or perhaps one and a half. The prospectus is worth 2% of the final grade.

Quiz #1 Basic world knowledge, map Feb. 10 5% 76%
Prospectus Summary of research plans Feb. 17 2%  
Midterm exam (multiple choice, matching, fill-in-blank, 1 essay) Mar. 4? 20%  
Quiz #2 Covers Andean countries Apr. 13 5-8%  
Book discussions Semiformal group critiques / discussions of the optional books. (Feb.-Mar.) 10%  
In-class essays Essays about textbook readings (Jan.-Apr.) 5%  
Class participation Participation in discussions (includes attendance) (Jan.-Apr.) 5%  
Research project Term paper, policy brief, multimedia show, news log, etc. Apr. 27? 15%  
Final exam Covers the whole semester, but emphasizes second half. (multiple choice, matching, fill-in-blank, 2 essays) May 4? 30-35%  

NOTE: Dates or text in RED (if any) have been changed. The scores you enter in the form above do not get transmitted anywhere, so don't worry about confidentiality. You can play around by entering hypothetical future scores, but bear in mind that the professor will apply a contingent adjustment formula to the cumulative aggregated percentages at the end of the semester (see below), so there is no way to determine in advance exactly what score you will need on the final exam, etc. to attain a given course grade.


The purpose of grading, as I see it, is to reward superior scholarly achievement without inducing undue anxiety. A given class's grading system should provide a clear incentive so that students can decide how much effort to put into it, relative to other classes. I try to be as scrupulously impartial and objective as possible in grading. On every assignment, I indicate the raw point total and percentage score, but no letter grade. In class I announce the class average for each assignment (which will be shown in the table above), so that everyone will have a rough idea of where they stand. The final grade for the course is determined by weighting together the percentage scores for each assignment, as indicated, rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent, and then using the the standard scale of A (90-100), B (80-89), C (70-79), D (60-69). I do not assign letter grades until the end of the semester, although provisional midterm grades will be given to freshmen, as required by the University. If the class average of that "raw" cumulative percentage score is less than 75% (middle C), I generally apply an across-the-board adjustment formula, using a factor that is a multiple of the square root of the difference between the nominal maximum possible percentage score (100% at the end of the semester, excluding any extra credit) and the student's cumulative aggregated percentage score (the result you get when you click on the "Go figure!" button). In other words, the lower the student's total score, the bigger the upward adjustment he or she gets. I choose a factor that will ensure a reasonable overall grade distribution, i.e., slightly more above-C grades than below-C grades. I avoid calling this adjustment formula a "curve," because that term means different things to different people. For one thing, I would never penalize a class for doing better than expected, so I would not use this formula to limit the number of high grades. This procedure has two advantages: it benefits lower-scoring students more than higher-scoring students (thus reducing the often-huge gap between top and bottom), and it virtually eliminates any discretion that I have in choosing the cutoff points from one grade level to the next.

Nobody is perfect: I will rectify any scoring or tabulation errors I may have made, as long as the student brings them to my attention promptly. If any student ever has a question about my grading policies, I will be glad to explain this in more detail.

Latin American Web sites:

NOTE: More to come...

Other Web sites:

Research / information links

Newspapers, magazines


Government sources

Any questions? JUST ASK!!

I have tried to make this web site as accessible and comprehensive as possible, to help students learn what is most important in this course. Nevertheless, there are bound to be a few issues that need clarification, both in terms of how the course is run and in terms of the subject material itself. Whatever it is that you need to ask, you are always welcome to contact me via e-mail (email) or telephone (555-1234), or to stop by and visit during my office hours (see above). Please don't wait until the last minute before coming to talk to me!