CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Is Latin America Transforming Itself? Remarks by CIPR Director Ludovico Feoli, Ph.D.

Latin America has recently been in the spotlight for its resiliency in the wake of the financial crisis and progress in the reduction of poverty and inequality. However, the challenges confronting democracy-including the weak performance of key political institutions and the authoritarian bent of some governments-and widespread and increasing violent crime, cast a shadow on the region’s prospects. There is also concern that Latin America ‘s economic boom-so dependent on world commodity prices-might be short-lived.

As part of the “Is Latin America Transforming Itself?” panel held during the Fall 2010 semester, CIPR Director, Ludovico Feoli, Ph.D writes the following on the topic:

Is Latin America Transforming Itself?
Ludovico Feoli, Ph.D.
(Click here for PDF version)

In the advent of the global financial crisis the media has showcased Latin America as a poster child of resiliency and economic vitality. Consistently, it is named among the emergent regions with greater promise for upcoming years. The fact that for the first time in many decades it has not been at the center of an international financial crisis, was prepared to counter its effects, and has emerged from crisis much faster than developed economies has created the sense that the region is actually transforming itself. But, is it?

From a political perspective, one might say that it is, but not in a single direction, and not in every case with positive consequences. From a general perspective the region has moved towards greater political openness and inclusion. All countries have democratically elected governments, save Cuba. Previously marginalized groups, including women and ethnic and racial minorities have gained special constitutional rights. Several countries, like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, have undertaken vast constitutional re-founding. And direct political participation has expanded both at the municipal level, through new models of participatory democracy, and at the national level, through diverse referenda and plebiscites.

In the course of the past year two years we have witnessed two historical political transitions, both held democratically and peacefully: in El Salvador, from the right to the left; in Chile, from the left to the right. In both cases the transition came on the heels of a decades-long period of political control by a single coalition or party. But the losers respected the rule of the ballot and in both cases went into the democratic opposition.

Yet, these trends towards democratic consolidation are not unequivocal. On the one hand, there is evidence that leaders recognize the cost of personalistic leadership and are prepared to step aside from power. In Colombia, Uribe accepted the verdict from the Constitutional Court that denied him an opportunity to run for a third term. In Brazil, Lula resisted the temptation to even seek a similar kind of constitutional reform to run for a third term. Both presidents where at the peak of their popularity and it is likely that, had they run, they would have secured their reelection easily. But they did not.

On the other hand, this experience is countered by the behavior of politicians elsewhere. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega secured a chance to run for reelection through a crass and strong-handed manipulation of the Constitutional Court. When the opposition objected he unleashed the “turbas divinas” who descended with fury on the legislature, impeding it from holding session. In Venezuela, Chávez has made clear his intention to remain in power until he can complete his revolutionary project. In order to do so he has recurred to intimidation and persecution of the opposition and has not hesitated to clamp down on the press. Whether grounded in fact or fiction, allegations that Zelaya was following similar tactics to perpetuate himself in power led to the coup against him in Honduras. The case of Ecuador, more recently, gives grounds for concern: was Correa the victim of a coup plot, or was his display of bravado, followed by days of martial law, designed to justify a strong hand against his opponents?

Moreover, not everywhere has the rule of the ballot reigned supreme. The existence of fraud in municipal elections in Nicaragua has been broadly established, while intimidation and an environment of fear marred Lobo’s election in Honduras. The very regime that Lobo succeeded was a stark reminder that coups are not altogether gone from the political landscape of the region. Opposition leaders elected in local and regional elections in Venezuela were emasculated by administrative and political maneuvers, the denial of funds, and in some cases by physical impediment to take over their offices. And other examples are not hard to come by.

The clearest form of transformation that the region has experienced is in the form of greater openness, and with greater openness comes greater contestation. As previously marginalized groups have become empowered, some of these societies have become more conflictive. This can be good insofar as conflict drives change. But conflict can also imply instability. The way to keep conflict manageable is to bind it within democratic institutions—and here is where we encounter the boundaries of our transformation, since for the most part, these institutions in the region are weak. Political parties lack coherent structures, are ideologically muddled, and not very democratic internally. As such, they are hard-pressed to serve as able intermediaries. Legislatures, and the legislators within them, are broadly discredited and mistrusted by the people. Paradoxically, it is precisely the least democratic institutions within these societies, like the army and the church, that enjoy the highest levels of trust among the population. This serves as an enormous temptation for them to act as the ultimate arbiters of the common good.

Yet, as Chavez himself is fond of reminding us, the emergence of illiberal alternatives is a not a cause but a consequence. Political inclusion has advanced much faster than economic inclusion in our region, despite recent favorable trends. The period of economic opening that even preceded the political one, failed to live up to the expectations it generated, and many feel defrauded. Democratic institutions without economic inclusion produce cynical and disenchanted citizens that lose faith in those institutions and become willing to abandon them.

To be sure, this has led to a recognition that large disparities of income will not necessarily disappear as a side product of economic growth, that active policies specifically designed to improve the plight of the most disadvantaged are also necessary and can actually compound the effects of growth through improvements in human capital. Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) are the best policy expression of this recognition. Together with a broad prevalence of prudential macroeconomic management, these policy responses represent an important transformative aspect.

At the same time, this model of social policy transformation is not unique in the region. Some countries have vied for a greater level of state discretion in economic management and more direct redistribution of income. They have also privileged state control of productive sectors, national savings, and foreign reserves. Which model will prove more effective and resilient will be determined in time, but the effects of the more direct approach are already being observed in higher inflation levels, lower investor trust, and weaker currencies.

However significant the transformations we have discussed are, there is a deeper sense in which the region has been unable to effectively transform. For the most part, and with notable exceptions, the region lacks the type of administration of justice that could ensure the proper functioning of the rule of law. This constrains states from stanching corruption and impunity in the face of crime, but also from being able to guarantee personal safety and property rights. This is one dimension of a broader weakness that the region has yet to redress: a lack of state capacity. With the exception of Brazil, tax burdens in the region are far too low to endow states with the resources necessary to pursue effective policies. While in many cases the scope of the state is broad, in most of the cases its strength is low. Low levels of competence, high levels of patronage, and the absence of merit-based structures plague public bureaucracies in the region.

To the extent that the region is far more globalized, it is being transformed as much as it is transforming itself. It is exposed to transnational forces that it cannot control entirely. These include migration, trade, financial flows and remittances, but also drugs and its multiple forms of organized crime. The question then becomes whether states in the region have the wherewithal to manage, and where necessary counter, these forces. This speaks about a different kind of transformation, a pernicious kind, one where the state finds itself in competition with criminalized organizations—to retain a monopoly of the legitimate use of force, to provide social services, and to provide employment.

Latin America is indeed transforming itself, but in more ways than one. Policies must continue to translate into steady improvements of material conditions for the poor, a reduction of inequality, and a strengthening of state capacities if citizens are to retain their faith in the kind of transformation that follows along a democratic path.

October 27, 2010.






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Stone Center for Latin American Studies to Host 10th Annual Workshop on Field Research Methods

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Join us at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies for the 10th Annual Weekend Workshop on Field Research Methods on January 27, 2018. The application deadline is January 20, 2018.

How will you get the data you need for your thesis or dissertation? Do you envision immersing yourself for months in the local culture, or tromping the hills and farms seeking respondents? Sorting through dusty archives? Observing musicians at work in the plaza? Downloading and crunching numbers on a computer? For any of these approaches: How might you get there, from here?

This workshop aims to help you approach your data collection and analysis for your thesis or dissertation topic, and to adapt and refine your topic to be more feasible. You will take your research project ideas to the next stop—whatever that may be, include raising travel grants. Learn to:

  • Plan more efficiently, feasible, and rewarding fieldwork
  • Prepare more compelling and persuasive grant proposals
  • Navigate choices of research methods and course offerings on campus
  • Become a better research and fieldwork team-member

This is an engaged, hands-on, informal workshop. Everyone shares ideas and participates. We will explore and compare research approaches, share experiences and brainstorm alternatives. You will be encouraged to think differently about your topic, questions, and study sites as well as language preparation, budgets, and logistics. The participatory format is intended to spark constructive new thinking, strategies, and student networks to continue learning about (and conducting) field research.

Who is leading this?
Laura Murphy, PhD, faculty in Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, and affiliate faculty to the Stone Center for Latin American Studies.

Who is this for?
This workshop is targeted to Stone Center graduate students as well as graduate students from other programs (GOHB, CCC, humanities, sciences, and others) if space is available. The workshop will be particularly helpful for those who envision research with human subjects.

Sign up
Sign up as soon as you can! Apply by January 20, 2018, at the latest to confirm your stop. Send an email with the following details:

  • Your name
  • Department and Degree program
  • Year at Tulane
  • Prior experience in research, especially field research
  • Academic training in research design and methods
  • Include a 1-paragraphy statement of your current research interests and immediate plans/needs (i.e. organize summer field research)

Light breakfast and lunch will be provided. Not for credit.

For more information and/or to apply: Contact Laura Murphy at or Jimmy Huck at

29th Annual AAPLAC Conference

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The Association for Academic Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean (AAPLAC) will hold its 29th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 21-24, 2018, hosted by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.

AAPLAC is an organization that facilitates and supports study abroad programming among Latin American, Caribbean and US institutions of higher learning and organizations dedicated to the promotion of cross-cultural, academic-based experiences.

This year’s theme, “Study Abroad: Meeting the Challenges of Cultural Engagement,” will include a variety of paper topics:

  • New Orleans after Katrina: The impact of the growing Hispanic population which came to help with rebuilding and has since stayed on
  • Interdisciplinary Institutional Content Assessment: How to best track what students are doing overseas and the benefits for our campuses
  • Global Partnerships through Peer Collaboration: How we can better work with institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Research Collaborations – U.S.-Latin America: Faculty led/student participation in on-site studies
  • Anglo-Hispanic Challenges: Cross-cultural understanding through experiential learning and study abroad
  • Strategic Partnerships: How we can enhance protocols between our schools in the US and those in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Strengthening AAPLAC Relationships through Inter-Organization Mentoring: How we can enhance protocols amongst our schools in the US
  • Latina Empowerment: More women on study abroad programs: How we can take advantage of this bond between women of the North and the South
  • Rethinking Mobility: How is the student’s identity compromised/enhanced abroad?
  • Community-Based Partnerships: How students can learn as they engage with local communities in working type environments
  • Crossing Borders: The eternal quest for a global space as students interact with the other
  • Global Xenophobia on the Rise of Brexit/Trump? What is our role?
  • Cuba: Future U.S. Relations – Impact on Study Abroad

Our Call for Papers has now closed, but we encourage non-presenters and presenters alike to register for the conference. Any interested faculty, staff, and students from local and international universities, institutions, and study abroad providers are welcome. Registration is now open through February 1st.

A pre-conference workshop from the Forum on Education Abroad is also open to any conference participants. We encourage registration for this “Health, Safety, Security, & Risk Management (Standard 8)” workshop by February 2nd. Click here for registration and more information.

For questions, please contact Laura Wise Person at 862-8629 or

Latin American Graduate Oraganization (LAGO) 2018 Conference

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The Latin American Graduate Organization will be hosting its 2018 Latin American Studies Conference titled Thinking of the Future: Expanding the possible in the Americas (Pensando en el porvenir: Expandiendo lo posible en las Américas) February 23 – 25, 2018, at Tulane University, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This year, the conference topic is meant to challenge academics and activists to move beyond critiques and recommendations of how to address modern days issues, and instead articulate a vision of and for the future.

The LAGO Conference welcomes all disciplines and all approaches, as long as the project attempts to grapple with the idea of building something better. This is a Latin American Studies Conference, but creative writers, journalists, artists, performers, organizers, lawyers and healthcare providers as well as graduate students and other academics are welcome. Proposals are accepted in Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and English.

Please contact with questions. For more information, visit the official conference website.

Apply for the Teaching Cuban Culture & Society: A Summer Educator Institute in Cuba

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Teaching Cuban Culture & Society: A Summer Educator Institute in Cuba
Havana, Cuba | June 23 – July 7, 2018
Program Application
Application Deadline: March 2, 2018

Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute at Tulane University join forces with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies to take K-16 educators to Cuba. This is our fourth year running the Cuban Culture & Society K-16 Educator Institute and we are excited about this year’s itinerary. The institute will approach Cuban society and culture form a multidisciplinary perspective focused on the arts, the geography, and history of the country. Innovative programming and annual summer teacher institutes over the past three years provide the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and studying the region. Taking advantage of Tulane’s relationship with the University of Havana and Cuba’s National Union of Writers and Artists, the institute equips teachers with multidisciplinary content, curricular resources, and methods of inquiry for developing that approach in their K-16 classrooms. Conducted in English by Professor Carolina Caballero, the institute will explore current trends and issues in Cuban culture and society through readings, films, and lectures. The program includes a series of talks by prominent Cuban intellectuals and local field trips to important political and cultural sights throughout Havana.

This two-week program provides the unique opportunity to work on developing lesson plans while exploring the sights and sounds of a nation and country that remain obscured behind political rhetoric and misinformation. Recent economic changes on the island have provoked a series of social and cultural transformations that have left Cubans and the entire world wondering what could be next for the island and the Revolution. Don’t miss the chance to witness some of these challenges and triumphs firsthand and get the opportunity to bring your experience back to your students in the classroom.

The trip will include a pre-departure orientation and two weeks in Cuba. The institute incorporates visits to local museums and exposes participants to arts organizations, schools, and teachers from the country’s national literacy campaign. Participants will stay within walking distance of the Malecón, the university, and many cultural venues. There will be group excursions to the historic Che Guevara monument, a visit to the site of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and a special visit to the town of Hershey, the town developed by Milton Hershey to begin his chocolate enterprise with the sugar from Cuba’s plantations. There will also be group excursions to the historic cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Playa Girón, and Viñales, focusing on their role in the development of the economy and culture of the country

The cost will include a shared room and two meals a day, medical insurance, airfare to/from Havana from Tampa, Florida*, airport transportation in Havana to/from residence, OFAC-licensed academic visa, and specialized tours and outings.

*Airfare to/from Tampa, Florida, a one-night hotel stay in Tampa, incidental costs, and extra meals and expenses are not included in the program cost. You are responsible for your own air flight to/from Tampa, FL.

Those interested in applying must be a K-16 educator or librarian. There is no Spanish language requirement for this program. The application deadline is March 2, 2018, at 5:00 PM.

Please note: This program is only open to K-16 educators who are currently teaching, are pre-service teachers or are serving in a school or public library.


Depart from Tampa, FL, Upon arrival, enjoy dinner and a welcome reception followed by an informal walk and people watching on the Malecón.
Day 2 – HAVANA
Havana Vieja Tour with local preservation experts to discuss in depth the history of local landmarks, historical preservation efforts, and future plans. Visit arte corte, a barber shop and hair-dressing school in the Santo Angel neighborhood developed to promote skills in the community and support the local economy and meet with local community leaders, students and elderly folks at the community center. Presentation on AfroCuban dance with musical expert Cari Diez; opportunity to interact with the musicians and staff.
Day 3 – HAVANA
Lecture with Professor Alfredo Prieto on Cuba Since the Special Period. Curriculum development workshop. Visit the Cuba Council of Churches to meet local people and participate in a seminar about the organization’s work in the areas of youth, agriculture, social welfare, and international communications.
Day 4 – HAVANA
Walking tour of Calle Obispo in the morning with Professor Rafael Hernández. Meet the instructors and students of La Colmenita, an after-school program that uses song and dance performance as a social development tool.
Day 5 – HAVANA
Presentation by Professor Isabel Rigol on current challenges facing Havana’s effort to preserve its architecture and heritage. Visit to the Escuelas Nacional de Arte and meet with students and faculty. Evening walk and visit to the Cañonazo at the Morro.
Day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Viñales for landscape and village exploration. Explore the mountainous magotes and visit and meet local tobacco farmers working in their fields and storehouses. At the Casa del Veguero we’ll have an introduction to tobacco farming and tobacco production. Visit with locals in the town of Viñales; lunch will be a community event shared with local families, followed by a visit to a children’s art center.
Day 7 – ALAMAR
Visit to an Organipónico (urban agrarian farm) in Alamar to explore sustainable farming in Cuba and learn about Cuban cuisine from local gardeners and Noel Pina, the manager of the garden. After lunch explore the community project Muraleando, where local artists have been changing a downtrodden neighborhood into a living work of art.
Visit to Cementerio Colón and interact with the dozens of pilgrims who line up daily at the tomb of Amelia Goyri, said to grant miracles. Continue on to the Plaza de la Revolución. Lunch and afternoon visit to workshop of ceramic artist, José Fuster, who has turned his neighborhood into a unique, whimsical work of public art. Curriculum development in the evening.
Travel to Trinidad via Santa Clara, a town founded by 175 people on July 15, 1689. It is the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution in 1958. Visit to the Che Mausoleum in Santa Clara. Also visit the historic sugar plantation of Manaca Iznaga before arriving in Trinidad.
Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, founded on December 23, 1514 by Diego Velázquez de Cuellar. Trinidad was a central piece of Cuba’s sugar-based economy. Guided city tour with the city historian. Visit the Trinidad library to learn about the importance of libraries and debate questions of intellectual freedom with the staff. Meet with local entrepreneur David Alamar, owner of a private paladar (Davimart) to discuss cuentaproprismo in Cuba.
We will head to Cienfuegos, a town known for its architectural beauty which reveals its French colonial roots. Visit the Beny More School of Art that trains students in the visual and musical arts and is one of the top ten middle-level art schools in Cuba.
Day 12 – HAVANA
We will hear from children’s book author Olga Marta Pérez about the children’s/ youth Literacy Scene in Cuba today. In the afternoon, we will visit the Cuban Collection of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes accompanied by a curator.
Day 13 – PLAYA GIRON (Site of Bay of Pigs), Ciénega de Zapata, Playa Larga
Day excursion to the historic site of the Bay of Pigs, one of the landing sites for the 1961 US-backed invasion. Visit the Finca Fiesta Campesina farm, the Playa Girón museum, the Parque Ciénaga de Zapata, the Laguna del Tesoro, and the Taino Indian village.
Day 14 – HAVANA
Wrap-up curriculum workshop followed by a free afternoon ending in a celebratory dinner.
Day 15 – HAVANA/U.S.
Morning departure for the U.S.

Explore our past trips through these photos and curricula:

Program Application

For more information, please contact Denise Woltering-Vargas at or call the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at 504-862-3143.