What are the Reasons Behind Latin America's Institutional Weakness?

June 04, 2021

What are the reasons behind Latin America's institutional weakness? It is often assumed that this is a fundamental condition, part of the region’s political DNA. However, according to Vicky Murillo, Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) at Columbia, Steven Levitsky, Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University, and Daniel Brinks, Political Science Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the opposite may be true: institutional weakness can actually be a political strategy.

The three academics and authors presented their points of view during the book launch of “La Ley y la Trampa en América Latina,” in an event held at the beginning of May that was chaired by Daniel Matamala (JN'12) Senior Anchor at CNN Chile. The book was adapted from “The Politics of Institutional Weakness in Latin America.”

After looking closely at the broader picture of the region, the book’s authors addressed the different types of institutional weakness and reflected on the politics that have led to them, touching on the events that during the last decades have shaken social and political stability in countries including Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.

 “We do not necessarily believe that institutional strength is positive, and weakness is negative. For instance, in the Chilean case, one institution that had too much strength was the 1980 Constitution, which wasn't necessarily good, because it did not allow for adaptation and change while facing social demands,” Murillo said, adding that on many occasions, laws are created with the idea of them never really being enforced, responding only to political strategies.

The event was held just ten days before Chilean voters elected the constituents who are to draft a new constitution. Reflecting on the book and the Chilean situation, Matamala noted: “We have great faith that a new constitution will create a new and lasting social pact. It is important to keep the lessons of this book on hand, to ground those expectations and understand which powers are at stake when a rule is written.”