Category Archives: Latin America

Peru – Former President Ollanta Humala to be Included in Campaign Financing Investigation

Once again, I return to the issue of corruption scandals at the level of the executive office. It was announced last week that a public prosecutor would be including Ollanta Humala, the former Peruvian president who finished his five-year term on the 28th of July this year, in a long and ongoing investigation into campaign financing and electoral donations. This investigation had up till now largely centred around Humala’s wife and former first lady, Nadine Heredia.

The investigation of the prosecutor, Germán Juárez, revolves around money raised by Ollanta Humala to fund his presidential election campaigns in 2006 and 2011. There has long been allegations that Heredia, as President of the Partido Nacionalista Peruano, received and hid donations from the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, and a number of Brazilian construction companies, which were then used to finance the campaigns of her left-leaning husband. Only this year, Heredia was prohibited from leaving Peru as investigations continue. For Humala, this latest announcement is significant because as of July this year, he can no longer enjoy presidential immunity, although activities during his presidency are still protected. However, such immunity does not apply to activities during the 2006 election.

This investigation is partly a product of Humala’s own admissions, when he stated that Heredia was only doing what she was ordered to do by Humala, as head of the party, but it also stems from information supposedly contained in a number of notebooks owned by Nadine Heredia, which were given to public prosecutors by former party members. These notebooks are alleged to document millions in campaign donations that remained unreported and which were funneled through personal bank accounts. The prosecutor has asked the judiciary for access to Humala’s domestic and international banking and tax records from his time in office, currently protected by Peruvian law. Ollanta Humala denies all of these allegations and claims that they are the product of political opportunism.

I keep coming back to this topic, but why do we often witness so many corruption scandals related to the highest political office across the region? The allegations against former president Humala, would appear to echo the explanation of Kurt Weyland; he argued that the last two decades have seen the emergence of personalistic leaders who have sought to bypass established political parties in order to reach “the people” through direct and often televised appeals. This can build a new loyal following, but it is also expensive and for these outsiders, the incentive to engage in ‘irregular’ campaign financing to boost coffers which cannot be filled through traditional party and donor networks, is often quite large.[1] Humala is the prototypical outsider. He was a former army officer who rose to prominence during the 2006 elections when he was somewhat scathing of exiting political elites. He only established his political party in 2005, the year before his first electoral bid.

Of course, it is also possible that we are not necessarily witnessing an increase in corruption scandals at the executive level, but rather an increase in the ability of judiciaries across the region to hold current and former presidents to account.

[1] Kurt Weyland. 1998. The Politics of Corruption in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 9 (2): 108-121.

Farida Jalalzai – Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?

This is a guest post by Farida Jalalzai, the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University

In his article “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout” New York Times contributor Simon Romero asserts “Up and down the Americas, with the notable exception of the United States, women are soaring into the highest political realms” (Romero 2013). In exploring this development making headlines, my book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? (Routledge 2016) analyzes four recent women presidents also known as presidentas: Michelle Bachelet (Chile, 2006-2010; 2014-), Cristina Fernández (Argentina, 2007-2015), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica, 2010-2014) and Dilma Rousseff (Brazil, 2011-2016).  Given the powers presidentialism affords presidents, women’s increasing tendency to play these very strong political roles present a puzzle.  Since institutional factors account heavily for women’s success and presidentialism appears the most difficult system for women to break through (Jalalzai 2013), how can we explain women’s ability to gain the presidency in Latin America?  Historically, women leaders in presidential systems (particularly women directly elected by the public) were generally limited to relatives of male leaders and this proved to be a personal factor linking women presidents worldwide, including those from Latin America. With the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, these traditional patterns appeared to be shifting.  What conditions, therefore, allowed for a broadening of routes, beyond family ties, for women in Latin America?  While an important question, I was also interested in the larger implications the election of powerful women posed. Once in office, do the presidentas make positive changes on behalf of women? My findings were primarily based on responses derived from over 60 elite interviews conducted between 2011 and 2014 in these countries. Respondents included political elites and experts of diverse partisan leanings such as cabinet ministers, legislators, party leaders, consultants from think tanks and academics, and a sitting president (Chinchilla)..  I supplemented interviews with data from public opinion polls, media and scholarly analyses, and information from governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In addressing my first question, I found that all presidentas benefitted from centralized and exclusive presidential nomination procedures (see also Hinojosa 2012). Not only were they essentially handpicked by their predecessors, their publics’ were largely supportive of the outgoing president’s policies.  While benefitting from continuity, with the exception of Fernández (as the former first lady, the only political wife in the group) they did not enjoy top placement or independent bases within their parties.  As such, their nominations were perceived as somewhat surprising and occasionally met with party resistance.  Yet, their outsider statuses likely explain why they were viewed as appropriate successors in the first place.  Critically, Chinchilla, Bachelet, and Rousseff also campaigned on how they would change the face of politics.  The combined approach of change and stability proved fruitful.

Regarding their impact, I examined three types of potential effects of their leadership on women:

  1. Appointing more women to political offices
  2. Positively influencing levels of political engagement and participation, political orientations, and support for women in politics among the general public
  3. Supporting policies on behalf of women

Throughout, I compared women to their male predecessors.  Because of their strong ties to the outgoing presidents, we might have expected the presidentas to behave fairly similarly.  Yet, as women, they may have done more to empower women than their male counterparts. My analysis identified mixed evidence.   While presidents Bachelet and Rousseff prioritized appointing more women than did their male counterparts, this did not seem to hold true for either Chinchilla or Fernández. In analyzing data from representative surveys and from my interviews, findings confirmed key differences between the presidentas.  More positive shifts in public opinion and participation were linked to Rousseff’s presidency (my book only covered her first term—it does did not account her cataclysmic fall from grace and subsequent impeachment) while Bachelet’s showed little consistent or significant effects.  In interviews, respondents easily identified positive influences Rousseff’s and Bachelet’s presidencies offered.  In contrast, both the representative surveys and interviews concerning Chinchilla and Fernández regularly indicated backsliding.  Support for women’s policies proved most prevalent in Bachelet’s presidencies.  Rousseff, to a lesser degree, also made women’s issues an important part of her first term.  While many programs were extensions of Lula’s, Rousseff added more depth to existing programs.  She also connected seemingly gender neutral policies to women, particularly poor women.  We see little prioritization of women’s issues, in contrast, during Fernández’s and Chinchilla’s presidencies, affirming the variability in positive effects of presidentas on women.

Three years after the article quoted above was published, another journalist for the New York Times, Jonathan Gilbert, posed the following question: “What has happened to the powerful women of South America?”  The previous fervor had given way to disappointment as the presidentas analyzed here encountered plummeting approval ratings, much of which is related to economic travails, and nearly all were ensnared in corruption scandals. While this book suggested mixed effects of women presidents, I wonder if women face greater scrutiny for their lackluster performances or alleged engagement in inappropriate behavior. These remain open questions, but ones worth pursuing in future investigations as enhanced scrutiny shapes women’s abilities to exercise power generally and behalf of women specifically. These questions will be even more salient with the United States on the brink of electing its first woman president. As Hillary Clinton is a former First Lady, her path to power is not very puzzling.  Still, no doubt this historic moment will soon give way to investigations regarding what Clinton’s presidency offers women and whether she too receives undue scrutiny because of her gender.


Gilbert, Jonathan. “South America’s Powerful Women Are Embattled. Is Gender a Factor?” The New York Times. May 14, 2016.

Hinojosa, Magda. 2012. Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2016. Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? New York: Routledge Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2013.  Shattered, Cracked or Firmly Intact? Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Romero, Simon. “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout.” The New York Times. December 14, 2013.

Farida Jalalzai is the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Jalalzai’s research analyzes the representation and behavior of women and minorities in politics and the role of gender in the political arena. Her work focuses on women national leaders. Her first book Shattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide (Oxford University Press 2013, updated paperback 2016) offers a comprehensive analysis of women, gender, and national leadership positions. Her second book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?  (Routledge 2016) examines several case studies of the behavior of women national leaders including presidents Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), President Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Cristina Fernández (Argentina). Her current projects include a co-edited volume “Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide” (with Amy C. Alexander and Catherine Bolzendahl, under contrast at Palgrave) a co-authored book Senhora Presidenta: Women’s Representation in Brazil during Dilma Rousseff’s Presidency (with Pedro dos Santos), and  “Blood is Thicker than Water: Family Ties to Political Power Worldwide,” a global analysis of the prevalence of family connections among executive political office holders (with Meg Rincker).

Ecuador – Ruling Coalition announces Candidate for February Election

At a convention over the weekend, Ecuador’s left-leaning ruling coalition, Alianza PAIS, announced that it had chosen Lenín Moreno as its candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in February 2017. Moreno served as the vice-president of the current Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, from 2007 until 2013, before being appointed as the United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. Moreno’s running mate for this election will be the current vice-president, Jorge Glas.

This election can be seen as a good litmus test of the sustainability of Latin America’s turn to left-leaning political parties and presidents that began with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. Given the income structure of the region, once left-leaning parties were able to institutionalise after the transition to democracy, it was no great surprise that they were able to successfully contest elections in the face of poor growth under right-leaning incumbents during the 1990s.[1] Recently however, poor growth following the collapse of the early 2000s commodity boom, and the fall in crude oil prices, has placed serious pressure on left-leaning incumbents; Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from power in Brazil; as was Fernando Lugo in Paraguay; the right-leaning Mauricio Macri won the presidency in Argentina; and the beleaguered left-wing government of Nicolás Maduro is looking increasingly fragile as the opposition gains strength. Suddenly, the right appears to be on the ascendency across the region.[2]

Similar dynamics can be observed in Ecuador. Falling oil prices have badly hurt the oil-exporting economy and economic growth has virtually ground to a standstill. The current left-leaning incumbent of Alianza PAIS, Rafael Correa, managed to maintain very high approval ratings through much of his presidency. He was re-elected for a third term in a veritable landslide victory in May 2013, and his approval rating remained consistently between 65 and 85 per cent. Back in April 2014, Correa began indicating support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits. Correa had already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term, and with national assembly backing of his proposed amendment to term limits, it was widely expected that he would run in 2017. The stuttering economy and his declining approval ratings appear to have convinced Correa to step aside.

Moreno, an experienced disability campaigner, who is in a wheelchair following a robbery in 1998 when he was shot in the car park of a supermarket will face a splintered opposition on the right. Although the Ecuadorian electorate appear eager for change, the fact that the right is split between Guillermo Lasso of Creando Oportunidades (CREO) and Cynthia Viteri of the Partido Social Cristiano (PSC), will favour Moreno providing the election does not go to a run-off, which would allow the right to coalesce around one candidate.

It remains to be seen whether bad economic times will claim the scalp of another left-leaning incumbent.

[1] See Steven Levitsky and Kenneth Roberts (eds.) 2011. The Resurgence of the Latin American Left. John Hopkins University Press.

[2] See the companion book to the one above: Juan Pablo Luna and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (eds.) 2014. The Resilience of the Latin American Right. John Hopkins University Press.

Guatemala – President Morales under Pressure from Corruption Scandal

Once again, a corruption scandal has affected the executive office in Guatemala. Although the president, former comedian and political outsider, Jimmy Morales, is not directly implicated, his brother, Samuel (Sammy) Everardo Morales and his son, José Manuel Morales Marroquín, have both been placed under investigation by the UN-supported International Commission on Corruption in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) and the Attorney General’s Office. Last week, a Guatemalan judge barred both Sammy Morales and José Manuel from leaving the country.

The alleged offence involves the fabrication of invoices and contracts for goods and services that were never actually supplied and centres upon Fulanos y Menganos, a restaurant in Guatemala city, owned by Congressman Gilmar Othmar Sánchez, who is a representative for Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN), Morales’ party. Apparently, Guatemala’s National Property Registry contracted Fulanos y Menganos, together with José Manuel and Sammy Morales, to provide 564 Christmas breakfasts in 2013. A bill was submitted to the Property Registry for 90,000 quetzals for the breakfast (about US$12,000), together with another 90,000 quetzal bill for seating. The breakfast is reported to have never happened. What is more, under public procurement law, three companies must submit formal bids for any contracts below a certain value. To cover his tracks, the President’s son, José Manuel supposedly asked his uncle to provide falsified bids from two other companies, in a competition that Fulanos y Menganos than won. Falsifying documents in this manner is also a crime.

What makes this case particularly noteworthy is the fact that Morales’ election campaign last year railed against the corruption allegations that dogged, and ultimately prematurely ended, the presidency of his predecessor, Otto Pérez Molina. Molina had been accused of involvement in a scheme, know as La Linea, that allowed businesses to evade paying custom charges in return for generous kickbacks.

Morales’ election was symptomatic of the rise of political outsiders and the ‘politics of anti-politics’, which has become something of a recurring feature of the Latin American political landscape. Jimmy Morales, a self-descried ‘common man’ with no prior political experience, spent the last fourteen years starring in a popular TV comedy series with his brother and his election manifesto was only six pages long. In fact, the major and central plank of his entire campaign was opposition to the graft and corruption that was endemic among Guatemalan political elites. His campaign slogan was ‘neither corrupt nor a thief’, so this current episode is particularly embarrassing for the President.

This incident is indicative of corruption scandals that continue to plague executive offices all over the region. For example, aside from the scandal involving Molina, another Guatemalan ex-President, Alfonso Portillo was recently sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. In El Salvador, it was announced that evidence had emerging linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, appeared in court last year to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in.

I have written before about the relationship between corruption and the executive office in Latin America. Explanations range from the historical development of the state and Guillermo O’Donnell’s infamous ‘brown areas’, to the lack of transparency during the economic reform process of the 1980s and 1990s, to the combination of presidentialism and the PR electoral system, a variant of which most Latin American countries employ.[1]

More significantly, Kurt Weyland has suggested that a contributing factor to the persistence of populism has been the rise of politicians who appeal to “the masses” via television. Weyland argues: “Over the past 15 years, such personalistic leaders have sought to bypass established political parties and interest groups in order to reach “the people” through direct, most often televised, appeals aimed at building up a loyal following from scratch. Because its methods are costly, the new media-based politics has given ambitious politicians much higher incentives to resort to corruption.”[2]

Jimmy Morales is the proto-typical outsider politician. His campaign, and that of his vice-president, Jafeth Cabrera, was subjected to claims that it benefitted from a donation of half a million dollars from a known drug trafficker.  With this barrage of corruption scandals and with his party, the FCN, holding only 11 of 158 seats in the house, the incentives for the kind of behaviour Weyland described must surely rise. Either way, the Guatemalan President will do well to celebrate a one-year anniversary in office.

[1] See For example, some of the chapters in Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbó (eds.) 1996. Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan or Jana Kunicová and Susan Rose-Ackerman. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science, 35: 573-606.

[2] Kurt Weyland. 1998. The Politics of Corruption in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 9 (2): 108-121.

André Borges and Ryan Lloyd – Presidential Coattails and Electoral Coordination in Multilevel Elections: Comparative Lessons from Brazil

This is a guest post by André Borges and Ryan Lloyd based on their recent article in Electoral Studies

The literature on presidential coattails has, until now, focused mainly on the role played by presidential elections in shaping national legislative races.  Comparative research has demonstrated that in the presence of a sufficiently low number of candidates running for president, concurrent presidential and lower chamber elections deflate the national party system. Presidentialism, however, is often associated with federal institutions, which should complicate party aggregation by introducing the issue of vertical integration.

In a recent paper (Borges and Lloyd, 2016), we argue that the coattails effect may operate not only “horizontally,” by shaping national legislative elections, but also “vertically,” by shaping elections held at lower levels of government. All else being equal, concurrent national (presidential) and subnational (gubernatorial) elections will foster coordination because parties and voters are aware that the presidency is the most important electoral prize in a presidential regime. No candidate for subnational executive office receives as much media attention or as many campaign contributions as the top presidential contenders do. Voters also recognize the overwhelming importance of the presidency in comparison to other political offices in presidential regimes, and they typically pay more attention to presidential candidates than those running for other offices (Golder, 2006).

Our central claim is that the congruence between national and subnational elections increases when elections are temporally proximate and the effective number of presidential candidates is sufficiently low. On the one hand, parties running for president have strong incentives to coordinate strategies between national and subnational electoral arenas because they are required to mobilize a national majority of the vote to win, which in turn requires coordination with local candidates. On the other hand, parties that lack viable presidential candidates will respond strategically to the deflation of the presidential party system by coalescing around one of the major presidential contenders because supporting third candidates (or not participating in the presidential election) may cost them votes in subnational races.

As coordination efforts are repeated over time and national party divisions are successfully reproduced at the subnational level, voters should respond accordingly and make congruent choices in national and regional elections. This is especially true because party coordination provides an external cue for voters in subnational elections. Given that voting is an information- and time-intensive activity, voters are likely to rely on national policies and national party dynamics as a cognitive heuristic for making decisions about subnational elections (Rodden and Wibbels, 2011). Our second hypothesis is ,therefore, that a presidential coattails effect should exist at the individual-voter level when coordination is effective and leads to vertical party linkage.

We evaluate these hypotheses using district-level data from Brazilian gubernatorial and presidential elections from 1945 to 2010. We complement our time-series cross-sectional (TSCS) analysis by running a series of logit regressions on survey data in order to assess the effects of presidential coattails on Brazilian gubernatorial elections. Our logit regressions use surveys from two electoral periods that were characterized by distinct levels of presidential party fragmentation: 2002 and 2010.

Brazil is an ideal case study for analyzing the effects of presidential elections and federalism on party linkage between levels of government because rules governing presidential and gubernatorial elections were changed relatively recently. From 1945 to 1962, presidential and gubernatorial elections concurred on only a few occasions, and not in all states. Lower-chamber elections concurred at the same time as presidential elections in 1945 and 1950, but not for the two elections immediately afterwards (1955 and 1960). In contrast, all elections to national and state-level posts have occurred concurrently since 1994, thereby greatly increasing the stakes of the presidential race. Given that the major traits of Brazil’s political system (presidentialism, federalism, electoral system and legislation on political parties) have mostly remained constant across these two periods, Brazil’s case allows us to test our first hypothesis with a quasi-experimental design.

Our empirical findings indicate that concurrent elections have a negative effect on dissimilarity as long as the effective number of presidential candidates is sufficiently low. Party system incongruence does decrease when presidential and gubernatorial elections concur, but this effect disappears as fragmentation of the presidential vote at the district level surpasses 2.6.

These results are fully independent from subnational dynamics. Previous work on Brazil claimed that reverse coattails exert a substantial impact on the presidential vote, as presidential candidates depend on the support of state party leaders and their political machines (Samuels, 2003). If this hypothesis were correct, we would expect to see low dissimilarity whenever the main contenders in the presidential race count on the endorsement of subnational party organizations. To control for such effects, we created a dummy variable that indicates whether or not the incumbent governor’s party was a member of either one of the two largest coalitions disputing the presidential race. As a proxy for incumbent parties’ strength at the state level, we included a measure of terms completed in gubernatorial office.  Overall, although subnational party dynamics does have an impact on dissimilarity – the presence of a coalition incumbent governor does decrease dissimilarity, especially for mean levels of continuity in office – this effect pales in comparison with effect of concurrent races.

Our logit analysis of survey data on the 2002 and 2010 elections was supportive of our second hypothesis. Multilevel electoral coordination between parties does indeed seem to be reinforced and reflected in individual-level data, as we find evidence that presidential evaluations have significant effects on the probability that one will vote for that the gubernatorial candidate of the presidential candidate’s coalition. In other words, presidential coattails voting exists at the level of the individual voter in gubernatorial elections.

To ensure that our estimates did not suffer from simultaneity bias because of the possible effects of a reverse coattails effect, we ran several tests. First, we used a bivariate probit model with the same control variables as our normal model, specifying it with the presidential and gubernatorial votes as our joint dependent variables. This specification allowed us to account for a possible correlation between the presidential and gubernatorial votes by not assuming that errors in the two equations were uncorrelated. Even accounting for this potential correlation, the presidential evaluation had a strong, significant effect on the gubernatorial vote for both the Workers’ Party (PT) and the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party).

Second, we ran a logit model using our individual survey data with votes in second-round gubernatorial elections in 2002 and 2010 as our dependent variable. The advantage of this latter specification is that it allows for the inclusion of controls for voters’ preferences in the gubernatorial election (the first-round vote for governor) that are not simultaneous with the (second-round) vote for president. In the presence of reverse coattails, presidential evaluations would be strongly correlated with the first-round gubernatorial vote and would therefore contribute little to the explanation of the second-round vote for both president and governor. This, however, is not the case: our models show that the first-round vote and presidential evaluations both have significant effects, suggesting that the coattails effect existed even with these controls.

Interestingly, we found that the coattails effect was stronger for PT candidates than for PSDB candidates, which is consistent with our hypothesis. Because the Workers’ Party coordinated its national and regional strategies more effectively, this induced greater congruence in voters’ choices. The PT’s presidential candidate, for instance, faced no internal resistance in either 2002 or 2010, whereas the PSDB dealt with internal leadership disputes in both years. It is therefore plausible that fractiousness in the PSDB led to less effective coordination in 2002 and 2010 in comparison to the PT. Furthermore, these differences cannot be attributed to higher levels of partisanship among PT supporters, as both models control for party identification.

The article presents important contributions for two distinct literatures. First, we develop a novel set of hypotheses building on the literature on vote congruence and second-order elections, that had previously focused almost solely on parliamentary countries. We demonstrate that multilevel electoral coordination in presidential systems has some important peculiarities that had not yet been incorporated into theoretical models. Second, we contribute for research on presidential elections and party systems, by incorporating issues of vertical party linkage and multilevel electoral coordination into the analysis.

Our empirical findings indicate that the choice of electoral rules for electing presidents and governors is key for building effective federal institutions, as long as it may have a relevant impact on the degree of party integration. When parties and party systems are poorly integrated policy coordination across levels of government will be harder to achieve. Although we do not claim that concurrent elections have produced an integrated, nationalized party system in Brazil, as dissimilarity has remained high in the recent democratic period, we believe that, in the absence of vertical simultaneity of elections, the Brazilian party system would likely be much more volatile and unstable. Furthermore, because Brazil is a least-likely case in which extreme multiparty system, decentralized party and electoral institutions, and low levels of party institutionalization all conspire against effective coordination, we expect such effects to be stronger in other, more favorable settings. In any case, our findings suggest that no account of party system formation in multilevel presidential systems will be adequate without an analysis of coordination across national and subnational electoral arenas and related coattail effects.


Borges, André, and Ryan Lloyd. 2016. “Presidential coattails and electoral coordination in multilevel elections: Comparative lessons from Brazil.” Electoral Studies no. 46:104-114.

Golder, Matt. 2006. “Presidential Coattails and Legislative Fragmentation.” American Journal of Political Science no. 50 (1):34-48.

Rodden, Jonathan, and Erik Wibbels. 2011. “Dual accountability and the nationalization of party competition: Evidence from four federations.” Party Politics no. 17 (5):629-653. doi: 10.1177/1354068810376182.

Samuels, David. 2003. Ambition, federalism, and legislative politics in Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suriname – President Bouterse Keeps Dodging Murder Trial

On 5 August 2016, Suriname’s military court decided to once more postpone the murder trial of the country’s ruling president, Dési Bouterse, who is accused of participating in the killings of fifteen political opponents more than thirty years ago. These so-called ‘December murders’ (Dutch: Decembermoorden) occurred on the night of 8 December 1982, at the height of Suriname’s military regime, which was headed by Bouterse. In 2000, one month before the crime became too old to prosecute, a legal investigation was started by the Surinamese judiciary, which in 2007 resulted in a criminal proceeding against Bouterse. The elections of 2010 however produced a resounding victory for the former military ruler, who in that year was inaugurated as Suriname’s next president. In 2012, shortly before the conclusion of the criminal case, the Surinamese Parliament – headed by Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) – modified the country’s amnesty law, as a result of which the murder trial was adjourned. Suriname’s military court (the krijgsraad) reopened the proceedings in June 2016, considering that the new amnesty law illegitimately intervened in an ongoing trial, after which Bouterse instructed the public prosecutor’s office to halt the prosecution in the interest of state security. In reaction, the judge decided to once more postpone the murder trial until November of this year.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony which became a sovereign state in 1975. In the first five years after the attainment of independence, the country was ruled by a coalition of political parties, reflecting the multi-ethnic composition of the Surinamese population. Taking advantage of growing disenchantment stemming from the dire economic situation, in 1980 Sergeant Bouterse and fifteen other military officials led a successful coup d’état, known as the Sergeants’ Coup. In subsequent years, the country was ruled as a military dictatorship headed by Bouterse, and its ties with The Netherlands were severed. In addition to the ‘December murders’, Bouterse’s troops committed various war crimes as part of the Surinamese Interior War, among which the murder of forty innocent civilians in the village of Moiwana. In the late 1980s, multi-party democracy was reinstated in Suriname, and Bouterse established the NDP with the goal of remaining in power by democratic means. In the Netherlands, Bouterse was sentenced in absentia to eleven years in prison for his involvement in the transport of 474 kilos of cocaine, and Interpol issued an international arrest warrant against the former dictator.

While Bouterse’s NDP remained in the opposition for most of the 1990s and 2000s, the 2010 elections were won decisively by a political coalition (the Megacombinatie) spearheaded by the NDP. The subsequent installment of Bouterse as President led to renewed tensions with The Netherlands and the termination of Dutch development aid to Suriname, but as head of state, Bouterse obtained diplomatic immunity and Interpol’s arrest warrant was dropped. While Bouterse publicly accepted responsibility for the 1982 killings, he has argued that the country must move past its history, and has explained the Dutch actions against him as attempts of the former colonial power to keep controlling Suriname. Whereas Bouterse enjoyed great popular support at the start of his presidency – especially among the youth, who have little recollection of the events of the 1980s – the persistent economic malaise in Suriname has led to a sharp decrease in his popularity. In turn, this might have an effect on the President’s attempts to obstruct his own trial: while supporters of Bouterse continue to call for a complete cessation of the proceedings, the size of this group has been decreasing in recent months.

Presidential Success and the World Economy

This is a guest post from Daniela Campello and Cesar Zucco Jr., both professors at FGV/EBAPE Rio de Janeiro, based on their recent paper in the Journal of Politics, “Presidential Success and the World Economy.”

For the economic vote to work as a mechanism of democratic accountability, voters need to be able to properly assign responsibility for economic performance (Ashworth 2012). In “Presidential Success and the World Economy” we show that this assumption does not always hold. The paper examines the extent to which Latin American presidents are punished and rewarded by economic conditions that were brought about by factors beyond their control. We find, in a nutshell, that this misattribution happens very often, at least in a subset of countries in the region, and argue that this  severely limits democratic accountability in the region.

Our general empirical strategy in the paper is to predict presidential reelection and approval ratings using only international variables that are exogenous to any action taken by presidents, but that have substantial impact in economic performance. The logic of the argument is that these factors should not predict the political outcomes if voters actively discounted “chance” when evaluating presidents based on economic outcomes.

It has been long established in the Economics literature that commodity prices and US interest rates largely influence the domestic economic performance of countries in Latin America (see, for instance, Malan & Bonelli 1977). Commodity prices operate through trade, as most countries in the region are commodity exporters (Maxfield 1998, Gavin, Hausmann & Leiderman 1995, Izquierdo, Romero & Talvo 2008). International interest rates operate through the financial channel, as capital flows to emerging economies tend to respond to the international costs of capital (Calvo, Leiderman & Reinhart 1996, Santiso 2003). The first contribution of the paper is to combine these two variables into the “Good Economic Times Index” (GET), which provides a cogent summary of the recent economic history of the so-called  low-savings-commodity-exporting (LSCE) countries of the region, mostly those in South America.


The figure shows the values of GET since the early 1980s. It reflects the hike in U.S.  interest rates in 1979 that  precipitated a debt crisis that ravaged the region, which coupled with extremely low commodity prices, produced the 1980s’ “lost decade.” In the early 1990s, lower US  interest rates prompted a boom of private capital inflows that helped improve economic conditions, which worsened again with the increase in interest rates that triggered the financial crises that marked the end of the decade.  In the 2000s, rising commodity prices combined with even lower interest rates to fuel a period of unprecedented wealth creation. In this context, the “great recession” was no more than a ripple in a region that was shielded from the crisis by high commodity prices and further decreases in US interest rates. The sharp drop in GET observed in the last few years contributes to explaining the economic downturn experienced throughout the region since 2012. Not surprisingly, as we show in the paper higher values of GET are associated with more growth, less inflation, less unemployment, and less “misery” in LSCE countries, but not in other Latin American countries, which we refer to as the “comparison group”.

Interestingly, the GET index is a very strong predictor of presidential success in the LSCE countries, but not in the comparison group. In a set of all free and fair elections in the region since 1980, we estimate that an increase from the 25th to the 75th percentile of GET is associated with almost 0.5 higher probability of reelection (understood as either personal reelection or election of the incumbent sponsored candidate) in LSCE countries. GET also predicts the presidents’ popularity in Brazil — the largest LSCE country — since the late 1980s, but not in Mexico — the largest country in the comparison group. A one standard-deviation increase in GET leads approximately to a 15% increase in popularity over an 18 month period. GET, alone, has the same predictive power as a large set of domestic economic variables.

Our results stand in contrast to recent empirical work, mostly on developed democracies,  which  shows  that voters’ capacity to assess and discount the impact of exogenous factors enables them to punish and reward incumbents exclusively for outcomes of their own making (Duch & Stevenson, Kayser & Peress etc). Authors have suggested that this capacity develops as citizens observe the global economy and benchmark their country’s  performance.  In our paper, we conjecture that inward-looking models of development, citizens’ relatively low media consumption, and relatively low levels of political and economic integration limit Latin American voters’ awareness of regional trends. As a result, citizens lack the elements to  benchmark their country’s economy, and to discount the impact of common exogenous shocks. Without this discounting, the power of the economic vote to hold leaders accountable is severely curtailed, as presidents are rewarded/punished for their good/bad luck.

We are currently conducting follow-up research to examine three important extensions of these findings. The first is to examine experimentally the conditions under which voters manage to discount exogenous factors when evaluating the president, or to overcome their “attribution bias.” The other is to determine theoretically and empirically — also through experiments — how presidents behave when they know their fate is determined by exogenous factors, a topic that speaks to literature on populism and corruption. Finally, we are looking at the role of local media in  enabling voters to correctly assign responsibility for economic performance.


Ashworth, Scott. 2012. “Electoral accountability: recent theoretical and empirical work.” Annual Review of Political Science 15:183-201

Calvo, Guillermo, Leonardo Leiderman & Carmen M. Reinhart. 1996. “Inflows of Capitalto Developing Countries in the 1990s.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 10(2):123-39

Duch, Raymond M. & Randolph T. Stevenson. 2008. The Economic Vote: How Political  Institutions Condition Election Result. New York: Cambridge University Press

Gavin, Michael, Ricardo Hausmann & Leonardo Leiderman. 1995. “Macroeconomics ofCapital Flows to Latin America.” Working Paper IADB 4012(3):389-431

Izquierdo, Alejandro, Randall Romero & Ernesto Talvi. 2008. “Booms and Busts in LatinAmerica: The Role of External Factors.” IADB Working Paper 89(631):2-31

Kayser, Mark & Michael Peress. 2012. “Benchmarking across borders: electoral accountability  and the necessity of comparison.” American Political Science Review 106(3):661-684

Malan, Pedro S & Regis Bonelli. 1977. “The Brazilian economy in the seventies: old and new developments.” World Development 5(1):19-45

Maxeld, Sylvia. 1998. “Eects of International Portfolio Flows on Government Policy Choice”, In Capital Flows and Financial Crises, ed. Miles Kahler. New Jersey: Council of Foreign Relations pp. 69-92

Santiso, Javier. 2003. The Political Economy of Emerging Markets – Actors, Institutions and Financial Crises in Latin America. New York: Pallgrave McMillan

Thomas C. Bruneau – The Impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff: Old Politics Meets New Standards in Brazil

This is a guest post by Thomas Bruneau, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School

On May 28, 2016, the Brazilian Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, gave a long interview with the Estado de São Paulo newspaper. In the long interview he barely touched upon military or defense issues, merely lauding the military’s neutrality in the current chaotic political situation. However, he did highlight an important aspect of Brazilian politics. He noted that while the Constitution of 1988 strengthened accountability institutions, naming specifically the Public Ministry, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary, politics had not changed. In his terms, politics is a hostage to itself.

These observations by a seasoned politician, one who has twice served as both federal minister and federal deputy, permit us to better understand the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.  Despite allegations by President Rousseff that she was deposed in a golpe, a coup, the process is in accord with the Constitution of 1988. This is notwithstanding the fact that many other issues have contributed to the situation, including her narrow reelection in 2014, lackluster governance, dubious economic policies, exposes of massive graft and corruption, and miserable public opinion poll rating.  While President Rousseff cannot be blamed for all of these problems, she is being held to answer for at least one of the 37 charges levied against her, which is a “crime of fiscal responsibility”: fiddling with government accounts to facilitate her reelection in 2014.

Scholars who study the process whereby the Constitution of 1988 was formulated and the resulting document are extremely critical.  In my writing I argue that the Constitution did not represent an “elite settlement” ensuring democratic consolidation, as was the case in Spain, for example. Law professor, Keith S. Rosenn, states the following: “The process by which Brazil’s 1988 Constitution was adopted practically assured that the end product would be a hodgepodge of inconsistent and convoluted provisions.” [i] Despite the 245 articles and 70 transitional provisions, the framers were unable to resolve whether Brazil would be a monarchy or republic, and if the latter, a presidential or parliamentary system.  These fundamental decisions were left for a referendum in 1993 that favored a presidential republic.  The framers of the constitution, which were the 559 members of the Brazilian Congress, maintained intact both the institutional defects of the political system and the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that governed Brazil between 1964 and 1985.  Whereas the institutional defects of the political system continue until the present, since the system is, as Jungmann puts it, hostage to itself, the prerogatives of the armed forces have been diminished and the accountability institutions have become robust and active.  These three processes, the diminishing of the prerogatives of the military, the vicious circle of the political system, and the emergence of strong accountability institutions are the foci of this paper.

Both Rosenn and I detail the extensive prerogatives of the armed forces that resulted from the negotiated transition from military to civilian rule and the reliance of President Sarney on the armed forces during his five year tenure (1985 – 90).  The most extensive work on this topic, however, is found in Alfred Stepan’s Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone where he demonstrates, by describing 11 prerogatives, that Brazil had little progressed between military and civilian rule.  More recently, twenty – eight years after Stepan published his book, scholars demonstrate that the prerogatives that were mainly high when Stepan wrote are today either low or moderate.  Some of the high points of the process whereby the prerogatives were diminished or eliminated include the creation of a civilian – led ministry of defense in 1999, which resulted in the decrease of military – led ministries from six to zero, and a large package of laws in 2011 which further delimited and restricted the autonomy of the armed forces. Today, the armed forces receive 1.29 % of GDP and 73% of this goes to salaries and pensions, and the political influence of the armed forces is minimal.  Illustrative of the change from the military regime to the present day is the elimination of the National Information Service, (Serviço Nacional de Informações SNI), which was the intelligence arm of the military regime, by President Collor in 1990, and the creation, only after nine years, of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência ABIN).  ABIN is prohibited from conducting intercepts, has a minimal budget, and lacks a direct link to decision – makers.  In short, the politicians had incentives to diminish the influence and roles of the armed forces, thereby increasing their own.

While the Constitution of 1988 included a great many items that could lead to an improved socio – economic situation for Brazilians, it changed nothing regarding the political institutions that put those 559 politicians into the position of writing the constitution, and have made only most minimal changes in the intervening 28 years.  As Rosenn states “The constituent assembly also did nothing to reform the malfunctioning of the political party system, which is one of the world’s worst.” [ii] They did not establish a minimum number of votes for a party to be recognized, resulting in the current situation with 35 political parties at the national level with 19 having deputies in the lower house, the Câmara. They did not change the open – list system of proportional representation in which each state is a single, and at – large multi – member district.  They did not change the gross misrepresentation whereby all states, and the federal district, have three senators or the provision stipulating that all states, regardless of population, would have a minimum of eight and a maximum of seventy deputies.

There was supposed to be a wholesale revision of the Constitution in 1993 that would require only an absolute majority of the deputies.  That revision never happened.  Instead, there have been piecemeal revisions. In reviewing the various initiatives to revise the constitution between 1988 and today, they amount to very little.  This is the consensus view of the experts on the issue including David Fleischer, Alfredo Montero, Timothy Power, and Keith Rosenn.  The Constitution of 1988 was full of contradictions. The issue of parliamentary vs. presidential form of government was never resolved, neither in the constituent assembly nor after. On the one hand the constitution gave the congress a role in approving annual budgets and allowed them to overrule presidential vetoes with absolute majorities rather than a two-thirds vote. On the other hand, it gave the presidency the exclusive right to initiate and execute annual budgets and to force 45 – day limits on the congress to review bills defined as “urgent” by the president, the power to appoint a cabinet, subject to Senate approval, and the power to issue executive decrees (medidas provisórias) which had the force of law while congress had 30 days to review the measure.  Post – 1990 presidents utilized these measures, and others, to govern.

Even with these gimmicks, the need to assemble a coalition, since no president since the first directly elected, President Collor, has belonged to a party with a majority in either house of congress, all presidents would have to attract the support of other parties.  Brazil has one of, if not the most fractured, party system of any democracy. This form of government, commonly called coalitional presidentialism (presidencialismo de coalizão), could, and did, easily evolve into corruption. The most famous, but not the only, corruption scandal of President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva –Lula (2002 – 2010) was the “big monthly” (as in big monthly payments to members of congress to support his government’s policies in the congress), mensalão scandal.  Alfred Montero has this to say on this topic. “The need to engage in vote – buying emerged from the limited options the Lula administration had for composing the same kind of legislative coalition that Cardoso enjoyed.” [iii]  Several top Workers’ Party (PT) officials were implicated in this vote – buying scheme.  The scandal ultimately led to the convictions of twenty-five people, including Lula’s former chief of staff, José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, who has more recently been sentenced to 23 years in jail in the Lava Jato corruption scheme.

There are so many corruption scandals currently in play in the investigation and sentencing phases, that only the experts can keep straight the modalities of Mensalão, Lava Jato, Petrolão, Zelotes, and Operation Aequalis to mention only the biggest and most current. So far the wave of illegal, extralegal, and simply corrupt practices have resulted in the impeachment hearing of President Rousseff, the investigation of ex-President Lula, the conviction of 84 persons for crimes associated with Lava Jato, the majority of them politicians and businessmen. While not all of the crimes involve politicians, most of them do, and virtually all of them involve sources of funds, as in Petrobras, under the control of the Brazilian State, and thus of necessity involve politicians.

It must be acknowledged that corruption is nothing new in Brazil.  In fact, according to the late Samuel Huntington in his influential Political Order in Changing Societies corruption is seen in positive terms in the process of modernization.  Huntington calls specific attention to Brazil.  Further, there is a very influential article published in 1990 in the important Revista de Administração Pública of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas by Anna Maria Campos that argues in great detail why there is no concept or meaning to the term “accountability” in Portuguese. Most Brazilian and foreign authors refer to the Brazilian propensity to use “angles” or “gimmicks”, jeitinhos, to get around laws. Or, as was said in positive terms of a mayor of São Paulo, he robs but he accomplishes things. Rouba mas faz.

And, in line with Jungmann’s observations above, while politics has not changed, including the use of corruption to govern, what is now permissible in politics and business in general in Brazil is changing.  There is no single cause for the change, and I have identified at least five.

First, the 1988 Constitution created, or recreated, a large spectrum of oversight and investigation mechanisms, and these have been expanded in number during the intervening 28 years. Today they include the Comptroller General, the Accounting Tribunal, the Federal Police, the Public Ministry, and the courts.  There is a huge literature on these institutions in both Portuguese and English, and the approach that I find most convincing to explain their increasing influence, culminating in the current wave of imprisonments, is that of Sérgio Praça and Matthew M. Taylor who demonstrate that the capacity of these institutions increases not by a single event or factor, but through bureaucratic interaction.  The capacity increase is contingent and interactive.  In short, these oversight, investigatory, and punishment institutions can only be understood in a specific national and international context, which is why I include the following four factors.

Second, whereas in the past, the main weakness of the accountability mechanisms was the inability or unwillingness of the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, to process and convict individuals, today this is changing due to personalities and the gradual modification of processes similar to those noted in the prior paragraph.  This change is best highlighted by the actions of Judge Sérgio Moro of Curitiba who has taken the lead in the Lava Jato scandal. He is extremely active not only in pursuing corruption, but also in writing on the importance of plea – bargaining and the Italian experience in countering the mafia.

Third, much of the momentum to impeach President Rousseff is related to allegation of corruption involving the Workers’ Party, and was established by the information provided by Senator Delcídio do Amaral, who was the leader of the party in the Senate. He was arrested, and due to plea –  bargaining (delação premiada) he provided information on the spread of corruption throughout the Brazilian government.  Those familiar with criminal law in the United States are aware that plea – bargaining is probably the single most important mechanism for gathering evidence on white – collar crime. Plea- bargaining was established in Brazil only in 2013 with law 12,850/2013. I have been informed by lawyers involved in the introduction of plea – bargaining that it was one of several laws that were required for Brazil to reach OECD standards.  Since June 2015 there was a Co-Operation Agreement in place between Brazil and the OECD, which has been followed by an OECD-Brazil Programme of Work.

Fourth, Brazil’s population of over 200 million is increasingly invested in the system. An important indicator of this vesting is their paying taxes. According to one source, in 2013 over 50% of those who declared income, paid income tax, whereas a decade earlier only 36% paid income tax. [iv] Just as important, according to data analyzed by the Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação, of the thirty countries where taxes are the highest, Brazil is the worst in terms of return to the population in investments in the quality of life.

Fifth, Brazilians are today very much aware of the low return on investment for their high taxes. Indeed, the huge anti – government demonstrations in June 2013 were mainly caused by this awareness of high taxes, mediocre services in health, education, and transportation, while the government invested massively in stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup in soccer in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.  In addition to all – pervasive radio and television stations there is today extremely high penetration by social media. According to comScore, which claims to be the global leader in digital analysis, Brazil leads the world with a 99.9% reach of social media. And, with 8.8 hours of use in the month of June 2015, Brazil is the world leader in that similar data for Europe is 6.1 hours, and the U.S. 5.2 hours. [v]

In sum, traditional politics, in which the lubricant is public funds, has now encountered a wide spectrum of accountability mechanisms, supported by processes and attitudes, which no longer tolerate the traditional lackadaisical approach to ethics in politics.  While the incentives to reform politics are not as obvious as they were to assert control over the armed forces and intelligence services, they are nevertheless present in the expectations of the Brazilian population and international organizations.


Bruneau, Thomas (1992) “ Brazil’s political transition,” in John Higley and Richard Gunther, eds., Elites and Democratic Consolidation in Latin America and Southern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 257 – 281.

Bruneau, Thomas C. and Scott D. Tollefson (2014) “Civil – Military Relations in Brazil: A Reassessment,” Journal of Politics in Latin America, pp. 107 – 138.

Bruneau, Thomas C. (2015) “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn – Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, pp. 502 – 519.

Campos, Anna Maria (1990) “Accountability: Quando Poderemos Traduzi-La Para O Português?” Revista de Administração Pública, pp. 30 – 50.

Couto, Cláudio G. and Rogério B. Arantes, (2008) “Constitution, Government and Democracy in Brazil,” World Political Science Review, pp. 1 – 33.

Fleischer, David (2016) “Attempts at Political Reform: (1985 – 2015): Still a ‘Never Ending Story’” Paper Presented at BRASA Conference, Brown University, March 31 – April 2, 2016.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1968) Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968)

Instituto Brasileiro de Planejamento e Tributação “Estudo sobre a Carga Tributária/PIB X IDH Maio 2015. Available at Accessed May 30, 2016.

Montero Alfred P. (2014) Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2014)

Power Timothy J. and Matthew M. Taylor, eds. (2011) Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The Struggle for Accountability (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

Power, Timothy J. (2010) “Brazilian Democracy as a Late Bloomer: Reevaluating the Regime in the Cardoso – Lula Era,” Latin American Research Review, pp. 218 – 247.

Praça Sérgio and Matthew M. Taylor, (2014) “Inching Toward Accountability: The Evolution of Brazil’s Anticorruption Institutions, 1985 – 2010,” Latin American Politics and Society, pp. 28 – 48.

Rosenn, Keith S. (2010) “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin, Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2010).

Rosenn, Keith S. (2014) “Recent Important Decisions by the Brazilian Supreme Court, Inter-American Law Review, pp. 297 – 334.

Stepan, Alfred (1988) Rethinking Military Politics: Brazil and the Southern Cone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).


[i] Keith S. Rosenn, 2010, “Conflict Resolution and Constitutionalism: The Making of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988,” in Laurel E. Miller, editor, with Louis Aucoin Framing the State in Times of Transition: Case Studies in Constitution Making (Washington, D.C. United States Institute of Peace, 2010), p. 458.

[ii] Ibid, p. 458.

[iii] Alfred P. Montero, Brazil: Reversal of Fortune (Cambridge, Mass: Polity Press, 2014), p. 43

[iv] Pulsamérica available at accessed June 2, 2016.

[v] ComScore & Shareablee (2015) “The State of Social in Brazil” available at Accessed June 2, 2016.

Thomas Bruneau is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He joined the Department in 1987 after having taught in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. Dr. Bruneau became Chairman of the Department in 1989, and continued in that position until 1995. He became Director of the Center for Civil Military Relations in November 2000, a position he held until December 2004. He left U.S. Government service in early 2013. He has six recently published books. He is co-editor, of Who Guards the Guardians and How: Democratic Civil – Military Relations (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). His second book, also published by University of Texas Press, with CDR Steve Boraz, is Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness. His third co-edited book, with Harold Trinkunas, Global Politics of Defense Reform, was published by Palgrave – Macmillan in February 2008. His single authored book, Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security was published by Stanford University Press in mid-2011. His co-edited book, with Lucia Dammert and Elizabeth Skinner, Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America was published by the University of Texas Press in late 2011. His last co-edited book, with Cris Matei, The Routledge Handbook of Civil-Military Relations was published by Routledge in London in late-2012. He writes the annual report on Portugal for the Bertelsmann Foundation Sustainable Governance Indicators publication. His two most recent scholarly publications are “Impediments to Fighting the Islamic State: Private Contractors and US Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 2015 and “Intelligence Reform in Brazil: A Long, Drawn-Out Process,” International Journal of Intelligence andCounterIntelligence Fall 2015. Between 1998 and 2001 he served as rapporteur of the Defense Policy Board that provides the Secretary of Defense and his staff with independent advice on questions of national security and defense policy.

Venezuela – Crisis and Electoral Authoritarianism

This is a guest post from Maryhen Jiménez Morales, DPhil Candidate in Political Science at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Univeristy of Oxford. Maryhen’s thesis explores opposition parties and electoral authoritarianism in Latin America.

In the 1990s, Venezuela experienced a total collapse of its political and economic institutions. Poverty, macroeconomic instability, corruption scandals, and the repudiation of political elites, generated a broad discontent among the society. These traits were embodied within the two traditional political parties, AD and COPEI. The result of this dissatisfaction was the election of outsider candidate and former soldier Hugo Chávez, who promised a Bolivarian revolution, towards a socialist country and participatory democracy. Today, after 18 years of Chavismo ruling, the country is experiencing its most tragic collapse yet. Why so?

Comparing regimes has its risks. However, if we want to understand the differences between Venezuela’s first collapse during the 1990s and Venezuela’s current breakdown, we need to first explore the nature of both regimes. The Pact of Punto Fijo, signed in 1958 by Venezuela’s main political parties back then – AD, COPEI and URD –, gave the country political and economic stability. For all its flaws pointed out by recent observers, its stabilizing significance is crucial to note. Over almost four decades, Venezuela’s democracy started to flourish. The economy stabilized over the 60s and 70s, and a stable middle class emerged as a result of new inclusionary policies. The population began to participate in ways they had never done before, and the military was under civilian control. However, in the 1980s, the country’s economy began to crumble as a result of falling oil prices. By the 1990s, poverty, inflation and corruption had risen, and AD and COPEI lost the support they had built up over the past decades. Finally, in 1998, Hugo Chávez, won the presidential elections with the final goal of establishing a new political system that would erase the power of traditional economic elites and strengthen his personal hold on power. Chávez brought an end to Venezuela’s flawed, but working democracy, and replaced it by an electoral authoritarian regime. Here lies the secret of Venezuela’s second and most disastrous collapse.

Promising to generate true participation and real development, Chávez began to transform the political, economic and social sectors. However, the result of his reforms, alongside his mandate, (1999-2013) had one main goal: to ensure his political power. Step by step, he increased the powers of the president, controlled all state institutions, including the judiciary, parliament, and electoral bodies, and began to actively curb the opposition’s performance by disqualifying popular leaders, imposing sanctions, changing electoral rules or cutting their access to material and non-material resources. He replaced the old political elite, with a loyal civilian and military one. On the social level, he increased social spending to create patron-clientelistic networks organized around his radical leftist ideology that could defend and ensure his revolution. To guarantee the project’s continuity, he named Nicolás Maduro as his successor, who, in April 2013, won the elections with a 1% margin.

Ever since, Venezuela has been advancing towards total collapse. Sector after sector has been breaking down. The main motor of Venezuela’s economy, the oil industry, has suffered large mismanagement and corruption scandals, which has resulted in the loss of one million barrels in production since 1999. The government politicized the company by firing 20 thousand skilled and professional workers in 2002 and replacing them by loyal party supporters. Ever since, Chavismo has been packing the company with allies and military members, thus almost quintupling the payroll from 43.000 workers in 2002 to 170.000 in 2016. Today, the lack of professionalism and maintenance of PDVSA’s facilities results in accidents almost every day. In 2012, a pump collapse in Amuay led to one of the world’s worst refinery disasters in decades, causing at the death of 47 people. The tragedy of PDVSA’s maladministration forces Venezuela – the country with the largest proven oil reserves – to import gasoline for its daily consumption. Corruption has also penetrated the electricity sector. As a consequence of PDVSA’s collapse, the electricity lacks access to fuel to run its thermoelectric plants and to generate power. Once again, the lack of maintenance, and the effects of El Niño, are leading the country’s largest hydroelectric dam Guri to its virtual collapse. For Venezuelans, this translates into blackouts for up to 6-8 hours a day. No electricity also means no water for the same amount of time.

The state’s absolute control, and the catastrophically corrupt management of the economy, has caused the world’s highest inflation predicted to surpass the 500% mark this year and staggering the 1600% threshold next year, according to the IMF. Chavismo imposed a multiple tier exchange rate system which has only increased corruption, boosted the size of the black market, and devalued Venezuela’s currency. In today’s black market, Venezuelans get one dollar for 996 bolivars. A year ago, one dollar equaled 258 bolivars. Although the government praises its control over the economy and especially its fixed price policies, the truth is that Venezuelans cannot find regulated goods in the supermarkets anymore. And if they do, they have to queue for hours to buy them. Poverty has reached 75% this year. This adds 25% to the poverty records of the 1990s, which reached around 49% of the population. Continuing with the maths, the basic food basket has increased by 574,8 % over the past year, and by 25,6% from March to April 2016. A Venezuelan household of five people would need at least 22 times a minimum wage to afford it, according to Cendas-FMV. The state is also neglecting basic health care for its population. Chronic shortages of medical supplies, such as antibiotics or intravenous solutions, food and hygiene are common use in Venezuela’s hospitals. Most recently, however, doctors deal with dead newborns almost every day. On May 15 only, seven newborns died as a result of a blackout that caused the shutdown of the respirators in the maternity ward. Chavismo’s dream of public health care for Venezuelans has turned into a nightmare. Waiting lists for treatment are endless and, if patients want to be seen, they will need to bring the required tools and medicines – all goods they may not afford to buy or even find at the chemist’s.

Politically, as the government has lost power, it has increased repression. Since 2014, it brutally dissolved protests, jailed opposition leaders, and vehemently provoked the shutdown of the parliament, which is controlled by the opposition since December 2015. Currently, it is delaying the possibility of a referendum, knowing that it will lose if it takes place. More than 75% of the population wants Maduro to abandon his office, and even the military – an otherwise unconditional ally of the regime- is beginning to question its support. International actors have distanced themselves from Venezuela. Former regional allies, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia or Uruguay have expressed their concerns over the current situation. The OEA, otherwise inactive as to Chávez and Maduro’s regime, activated the democratic charter to investigate the happenings in the country.

How was this all possible during the country’s largest oil bonanza? The answer is not as simple but may bear some leads. The authoritarian nature of the regime has allowed for unlimited control in all state affairs. It is precisely the lack of democraticness and transparency in government spending and further economic activities that has boosted corruption. A small, so-called Bolivarian elite, has disposed over the country’s largest oil income, filling up their pockets, and emptying the state’s treasury.

Although Venezuela is experiencing its largest collapse, some hope for transformation remains. Despite the authoritarian environment, opposition parties have emerged and strengthened their structures. Opponents have understood that only together, they will be able to transition towards democracy. Notwithstanding internal disagreements, a common fact in democratic systems, opposition parties are cooperating under the MUD and have not abandoned the democratic path for political change. Chávez’s populist seduction posed a threat in the past, but it will serve as an important democratic lesson for the future. Venezuela will have to enter a second Pact of Punto Fijo, that leaders ought to keep it place to prevent a third breakdown.


3ECFF702-EC8C-407F-B32E-324FFDBD549DMaryhen Jiménez Morales is a DPhil student at the Department of Political Science and International Relations. Her research looks at opposition parties in authoritarian regimes in Latin America. She completed an MPhil in Latin American Studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Maryhen holds a BA in Political Science from the Goethe University Frankfurt and has worked for the German development cooperation, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch in Washington DC.

Chris O’Connell – Late Turnaround in Peruvian Presidential Election Gifts Presidency to Kuczynski

This is a guest post by Chris O’Connell, PhD candidate in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

Barring an unlikely result from the remaining three per cent of votes yet to be counted, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will become the next President of Peru, thereby completing a remarkable comeback. Yet Kuczynski (or ‘PPK’ as he is known), can count himself exceedingly lucky: not only did he claim victory by the narrowest of margins imaginable over his rival Keiko Fujimori, but the final week’s dramatic turnaround had little to do with his own performance.

The results to hand with 97 per cent of the votes counted give Kuczynski 50.15 per cent of the vote to Fujimori’s 49.85 per cent – a winning margin of 0.3 per cent. Put another way, the presidency of a country with a population over 30 million has been decided by a mere fifty thousand votes. The remaining votes to be counted comprise citizens living abroad along with some districts of the south, both of which are expected to favour PPK.

As I wrote previously in this blog, the first round of voting in Peru’s presidential election witnessed a series of dramatic events including the dubious exclusion of two strong candidates – Cesar Acuña and Julio Guzman – and the re-constitution of the left, primarily in the guise of the Broad Front’s candidate, Veronika Mendoza. Nevertheless, the results gave us two familiar faces – Kuczynski and Fujimori – in the run-off vote.

Fujimori was the clear winner of the first round with 40 per cent of the vote, giving her a strong lead over PPK, who managed a mere 21 per cent. In spite of this large margin, Kuczynski and his supporters could take comfort from comparative data which shows that of the 44 run-off elections in Latin America between 1978 and 2015, 11 were won by the runner-up in the first round[i]. Peruvian examples of such reversals also exist, such as Alan Garcia’s victory over Ollanta Humala in 2006[ii], and indeed the initial triumph of Alberto Fujimori in 1990. Neither, however, faced anything like the deficit confronting PPK.

As outlined in my previous blog, the challenge for Kuczynski in the second round was twofold: to garner a significant amount of the leftist and anti-establishment votes that went to Mendoza and others; and to effectively present himself as the “anti-Fujimori” candidate. But opinion polls carried out just a week before the election uniformly giving a six-point lead for Keiko indicated that he was failing on both fronts. Significantly, those polls also showed that over 13 per cent of the electorate had yet to decide which way to vote.

Perhaps PPK’s inability to connect with Mendoza’s base was not a surprise. As a former Wall Street banker and World Bank economist he is inextricably linked to Peru’s existing neoliberal economic model; and as a former Prime Minister and Economics Minister, he is also closely associated with the political establishment. His seeming inability to tap into the strong public sentiment of ‘anti-fujimorismo’ – encapsulated by his diffident performance in the first presidential debate – was harder to explain.

But both these elements were to swing firmly in Kuczynski’s favour in the final week of the campaign, even if his own part in them was arguably the least significant. Nonetheless, a notably more aggressive performance in the second debate coupled with a series of attacks on ‘fujimorismo’ gave his campaign a much-needed injection of energy.

But it is likely that events over which he had no control played an even greater role in handing victory to Kuczynski. Galvanised by the apparent inevitability of a Keiko victory, the twin currents of leftism and ‘anti-fujimorismo’ were channeled into support for PPK. A huge national protest on May 31st by the ‘Keiko no va!’ (Keiko no way!) campaign coincided with a message on You Tube from Mendoza, urging her supporters in both Spanish and Quechua to support Kuczynski as the only way to halt Fujimori.

A review of the geographic spread of votes indicates that this support played a significant role in deciding the presidency. Kuczynski’s success in the south of Peru – including a thumping victory in Mendoza’s home state of Cuzco – along with victory in the anti-mining hot spot of Cajamarca, are clear evidence that PPK benefited from the left-leaning votes that had gone to Mendoza and others in the first round.

Equally significant was the succession of scandals which encircled Fujimori’s Popular Force party in the final weeks of the campaign. The revelation that the party’s general secretary, Joaquin Ramirez, was under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for alleged money-laundering and drug offences, while harmful, did not at first appear to fatally damage Keiko’s campaign. Attempts by her running-mate Jose Chlimper to discredit those charges by releasing audio tapes that were proven to have been doctored, however, served to widen and prolong the scandal.

The nature of the allegations and attempted cover-up undoubtedly evoked memories of the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Keiko’s father Alberto in the minds of many voters. Furthermore, Keiko’s reluctance to distance herself from either man (although Ramirez was eventually suspended), or to clearly answer questions about her campaign finances, threw doubt on her claims to have cut ties to the past and forged a new, democratic party. Instead PPK was belatedly able to accuse the party of planning to turn Peru into a ‘narco-state’.

Regardless of how it came about, this victory nonetheless represents a stunning turnaround, and a shocking defeat for Fujimori[iii]. Nevertheless, it does appear that this was an election not so much won by Kuczynski as handed to him by a combination of Mendoza’s instrumental support and Fujimori’s shortcomings. This in turn will have considerable implications for the incoming government.

PPK will assume the presidency with the narrowest of mandates, with a polarised electorate and facing an array of political obstacles. In particular, the presence of a huge ‘fujimorista’ bloc in Congress, where they hold 73 of the 130 seats, appears to hold out the possibility of executive-legislative deadlock. Kuczynski’s own party hold just 18 seats, forcing him to seek support from others.

Mendoza’s message, however, makes it clear that the support from the Broad Front was purely to stop Fujimori, and PPK is unlikely to be able to continue counting on those ‘borrowed’ votes. The kind of political and environmental reforms sought by Mendoza’s party are unlikely to be looked upon favourably by highly influential business and mining lobbies that have provided backing to his candidacy[iv].

Another option for PPK is to forge some kind of coalition with Fujimori’s Popular Force party. A deal with the ‘fujimoristas’ comes with its own set of political risks, and would appear counter-intuitive given how decisive the anti-Fujimori vote proved in getting him elected. That path risks a popular backlash as well as strengthening a resurgent left.

But if the recent political history of Peru teaches us anything is that electoral promises are quickly forgotten. Furthermore, the similarities between the offerings of PPK and Fujimori are striking, with both favouring the continuance of the existing economic model, including its dependence on mining. Indeed, part of the problem for Kuczynski during the second-round campaign came from differentiating his programme from that of his rival.

Thus the most likely outcome is that PPK will follow the path of his immediate predecessors in combining continuity in the economic sphere with low public approval and deepened disenchantment with the political game.


[i] See article from Daniel Zovatto at the Brookings Institute, available online at:

[ii] McClintock, Cythia, 2006. “An Unlikely Comeback in Peru.” Journal of Democracy Vol. 17.4.

[iii] The near-catatonic reaction of political analyst Ricardo Vasquez Kunze live on TV Peru has been cited as an example of the shock felt by some.

[iv] See articles by Francisco Durand regarding the political influence of the business lobby: Durand (2002) “Business and the Crisis of Peruvian Democracy” Business and Politics Vol. 4.3; Durand (2010) “Empresarios a la Presidencia” Nueva Sociedad Vol. 225.

Chris O’Connell is a PhD candidate in politics at Dublin City University, where he has lectured on Latin American politics. He holds a BCL from University College Cork, and an MA in Development from DCU. Currently he is writing his doctoral thesis on the influence of civil society on populist presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. His research interests centre on the politics of development in Latin America.