Article

Democratization in Central America

Fabrice Lehoucq

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online November 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0017
Democratization in Central America

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Even as late as the 1980s, no one would have thought of writing about democratization in Central America. With the exception of Costa Rica, all countries had dictatorships. In Nicaragua, the family dynasty of the Somozas had ruled since 1933. Military regimes dominated the political systems of the rest of the countries on the isthmus. By the late 1970s, insurgents battled dictatorships in three of the countries of the isthmus. In Nicaragua, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and a multiclass coalition overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1978. In El Salvador, a military coup in 1979 became an ill-fated attempt to find a centrist compromise to civil war. After more than a decade of fighting, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) forced the government to sign a peace accord in 1994 that led to the dismantling of the country’s notorious armed forces. In Guatemala, a brutal counterinsurgency defeated a guerrilla movement by 1982, though the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) would continue fighting until 1996, when it signed a peace accord with President Alvaro Arzú. Political systems began to liberalize unexpectedly during the 1980s. No one argued, in the early 1980s, that the outcome of violence would be democracy. Parties in El Salvador began to compete for seats in a Constituent Assembly in 1982, even as the Left remained in exile or was fighting a US-supported government. Generals in Guatemala permitted elections to be held for the 1984 Constituent Assembly, which wrote a new constitution a year later, when elections were also held for the presidency and the congress. After centralizing power in the hands of their party, the FLSN held presidential elections in 1985 that the opposition, with the support of the United States, boycotted. It was not until 1990 that new presidential elections were held, which the Sandinistas lost. It was not until the 1989 US invasion of Panama that democracy replaced the Noriega dictatorship. This bibliography contains articles and books on the transitions to democracy in Central America and how a host of institutions have adapted to electoral competition. Works on the civil wars and revolutions of the 1980s are included because violent conflict was the spur to the dramatic political changes experienced on the isthmus. Panama is included in this discussion of Central America; before the 1980s, Panama was typically excluded from discussions of the isthmus because it was not part of Spanish colonial jurisdiction of Central America (Panama belonged to Colombia until 1904, when the United States helped it become independent). It is now included because it is another microstate on an isthmus containing other small states.

Article.  9759 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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