CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Transparency and Accountability in Legislatures

By Ludovico Feoli

On June 27, 2011, Costa Rican newspaper La Nación reported a series of reform initiatives launched by party leaders in the legislature to improve the body’s efficiency. The paper highlighted a statement by the Assembly’s president calling for the establishment of a recorded public voting system. Unlike in the United State, where voting records are the long-established mechanism for representative accountability, such systems tend to be rare in Latin America, even in Costa Rica, one of the region’s longest standing democracies.

Why this is so relates to technological and procedural barriers to recording and publishing votes, but as technological barriers have been diminishing there is a growing impetus across the region for procedural reforms. Procedural barriers to vote recording vary broadly across countries. According to John Carey1, only four chambers (the Chilean House and Senate, the Nicaraguan and Peruvian Congresses) establish electronic voting as the default procedure. Five more that have electronic voting systems request a threshold of 10% of members or less to take a nominal vote (the Argentine and Brazilian House, the Panamanian Congress, and both Mexican houses). Among the remaining 12 chambers without electronic systems, 7 set a majority request threshold to record votes.

Carey reports a remarkable connection between procedural obstacles and the number of votes actually recorded in legislatures: chambers with electronic voting as the standard average 459 votes recorded per year; chambers with electronic systems but where recorded votes must be requested by some threshold of legislators average 153 votes; and where voting is manual and recorded votes must be requested, the average is about 2. In Costa Rica, which is among the cases requiring a majority to register a nominal vote, the average over 33 years is a meager 0.5 votes recorded yearly. Is it likely that the country might transition to the type of accountability postulated by Congressional leaders in the cited article?

The empirical evidence offered by Carey shows that the incentives for visible voting are influenced by a combination of system and individual-level factors. At the system level, electoral rules determine the incentives faced by legislative candidates to emphasize voting records in campaigns. These incentives are largest in systems with winner-take-all single-member districts. In multi-member districts the electoral benefit of disseminating opponent voting records is diluted among other members of the party list. Closed lists and high district magnitude exacerbate this problem. Since Costa Rica has all three characteristics–closed lists in relatively high magnitude multi-member districts–conditions at the system level are not favorable to greater vote visibility.

At the individual level support for visible voting will depend on the relative cost and benefit faced by political actors. Party leaders, as legislative insiders, are well placed to monitor voting at a low cost, so they will have little interest in formal recording mechanisms. Moreover, because the exposure of internal rifts has the potential of compromising their authority and competence as leaders they will favor the availability of less information, not more. However, opposition leaders might find that pursuing more visible voting is to their political advantage. They might, for example, use it to force greater accountability on the dominant faction. Individual legislators could also favor visible voting as a mechanism to resist pressure from party leaders. It is precisely with respect to these two counts that conditions are currently most favorable for the Costa Rican reformists.

On May 1, a coalition of opposition parties wrested control of the legislative directorate away from the party in government. Because this group is not ideologically coherent and it lacks a common policy agenda, it is especially well positioned to promote procedural reforms. By doing so it can instill political damage on the government, forestalling its policy priorities, while at the same time staking a claim for reformism. Given the low standing of political parties and the legislature in public opinion polls, the opposition coalition could derive considerable political capital from taking the high ground with a visible campaign to improve transparency and accountability.

On the other hand, the government’s legislative party block (PLN) has been beset by factionalism and internal dissent. The president, forced to distance herself politically from the Arias administration–in which she served as vice-president–to claim an independent political legacy, does not command the loyalty of all her deputies. This has complicated the coordination of relations with the legislature, prompting the resignation of the Minster of the Presidency and facilitating the debacle that culminated in the loss of the directorate on May 1. Under such conditions individual legislators may have a greater incentive to assert their independence from the party leadership, favoring more visual voting to the degree that it allows them to do so.

Recorded voting broadens the ambit of the political process by increasing transparency and exposing legislators to pressures from a larger number of external actors, to which they become accountable. An ancillary effect is that it weakens the influence of party leaders, at a potential cost to party discipline. The leaders of governing parties will therefore resist it. But the promise of greater accountability has broad appeal, particularly where party government has a tarnished reputation, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with legislative institutions. As these are the conditions currently characterizing Costa Rica, the reformist efforts announced by legislators could face an auspicious climate. Success will ultimately depend on their ability to rally support for increased accountability among sectors of public opinion, the press, academics, and civil society. In pushing for recorded voting they are heading in the direction of the regional trend.

[1] Legislative Voting and Accountability, Cambridge University Press, 2009.


  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research





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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.

Please be advised that this itinerary is subject to change based on availability in Cuba. The itinerary below is the schedule from the 2017 institute.

  • Day 1 – U.S./HAVANA, CUBA
    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
    Habana Vieja (Old Havana) Tour with local preservation experts to discuss in depth the history of local landmarks, historical preservation efforts, and future plans. Visit Muraleando Lawton, a community art project in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana. Hear from the founders of this project on how the 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.
  • Day 3 – HAVANA
    Lecture with Professor Carlos Alzugaray on Cuba Since the Special Period. Visit the elementary school Sergio Luis Ferriol in Habana Vieja. Connect with teachers and administrators about their experiences in the classroom.
  • Day 4 – HAVANA
    Visit the Museo Nacional de la Alfabetización (National Museum of the Literacy Campaign) and connect with members of the literacy brigade, teachers from the literacy campaign.
  • Day 5 – HAVANA
    Visit and explore Ernest Hemingway’s house. Have lunch in the infamous fishing village of Cojimar. In the afternoon, explore art by taking a tour of the Cuban Collection of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes accompanied by a curator then visit with artists at the Taller de Gráfica.
  • Day 6 – HERSHEY
    Day trip to the Hershey, Cuba and nature park. The site where famous chocolatier Milton Hershey developed his chocolate business by setting up sugar mills in the early 1900’s. Explore the natural side of Cuba in this country town.
  • Day 7 – HAVANA
    Learn about children’s literature and the book publishing business in Cuba by visiting Cuba’s national publisher UNEAC and hear first hand from children’s book authors. We will hear from children’s book author Olga Marta Pérez about the children’s/ youth Literacy Scene in Cuba today.
  • Day 8 – HAVANA/REGLA
    Take the ferry across the bay in Havana to the town of Regla to learn about Afro-Cuban dance and music from musicologist Cari Diez and an Afro-Cuban dance performance group.
    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.
  • Day 10 – 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.
  • Day 11 – 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. Snorkel in the Bay of Pigs!
  • Day 12 – HAVANA
    Visit the U.S. Embassy and hear first-hand about the state of current relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In the afternoon, we head over to meet up with the famous hip-hop group, Obsesión to hear about their music and experience as hip-hop artists in Cuba.
    Take a day trip to Matanzas, the capital of the Cuban province of Matanzas. Known for its poets, culture, and Afro-Cuban folklore, we will explore the Triunvirato Plantation and the Castillo San Severino where we will hear about the history of slavery in Cuba. The rest of the afternoon we relax and explore the beautiful beaches of Varadero, a popular resort town covering Cuba’s narrow Hicacos Peninsula.
  • 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.