Steven Levitsky & María Victoria Murillo in the Journal of Democracy


April 8, 2013


In their article, "Building Institutions on Weak Foundations," Columbia professor of political science María Victoria Murillo and Harvard professor of government Steven Levitsky  discuss institutional weakness in Latin America. The article appears along with analyses by other regional experts in a special section of the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Democracy , entitled "Lessons from Latin America."

Murillo and Levitsky observe that many Latin American democracies lack the ability to adequately and evenly enforce their laws, and that formal rules change repeatedly, making it difficult to predict when violations will be sanctioned or not. According to the authors, Latin America's patterns of institutional change, even during periods of military-led transitions, makes the region an exception to established models of institutional development: "Latin American relity poses a challenge to both punctuated-equilibrium and gradual models of institutional change," the authors write.

"Rather than being infrequent and radical or ongoing and gradual, institutional change in much of Latin America is frequent and radical," say the authors, who point out that in nations such as Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, constitutions "were replaced at least ten times during the first century of independence," and add that these patterns persist in some countries, such as Ecuador, which has changed its constitution twenty times since independence. Murillo and Levistsky refer to this pattern of frequent and radical change as "serial replacement."

Murillo is a member of the editorial board of Americas Quarterly. To read an AQ review of her recent book, Political Competition, Partisanship, and Policy Making in Latin American Public Utilities (2009), click here.

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