CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Fabrice Lehoucq presents new book on the Politics of Modern Central America

November 8th, 2012

On November 8, 2012, the Center for Inter-American Policy welcomed Fabrice Lehoucq to discuss his latest work, The Politics of Modern Central America: Civil War, Democratization, and Underdevelopment (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Lehoucq opened his presentation by discussing his motivation in writing this work. He explained that he responded to a relative dearth of scholarly literature on the Central American region as a whole, as well as a tendency in the existent body of literature to solely examine politics or solely examine economics rather than synthesizing these aspects into a more comprehensive regional analysis.

Lehoucq‘€™s work seeks to examine the civil wars that engulfed the region during the latter half of the twentieth century by posing several questions. First, were civil wars necessary for these countries to transition to democracy, and is that transition complete? Second, what were the human and economic costs of these civil wars? And finally, were these civil wars worth it in the end considering their human and economic costs? Lehoucq argued that the civil wars were instrumental in bringing about democracy in the region but that democratization is not complete in all of Central America. He cited the examples of Guatemala and Nicaragua, asserting that the latter is better characterized as an electoral autocracy than as a democracy. Lehoucq thus concluded that much of Central America at present displays what he terms ‘€œlow-quality democracy.‘€

In terms of the human and economic costs of these civil wars, Lehoucq explained that the levels of human death and loss of GDP per capita were staggering. More than 300,000 individuals across the region lost their lives. To demonstrate the degree of economic devastation wrought, Lehoucq offered the example of Nicaragua, where the revolution against the Somoza regime cost the country thirty percent of its GDP, and the Sandinista war against US-backed Contras that followed resulted in another thirty percent reduction in GDP per capita. Despite the fact that the countries of Central America all have some degree of democratization, countries like Nicaragua have not recovered from this economic devastation.

In the final analysis, Lehoucq concluded that while the Central American civil wars were crucial in initiating democratization across the region, democratization has not led to general economic growth or any substantial decrease in inequality. Furthermore, despite the fact that the civil wars are long over, many Central American countries maintain egregious levels of violence, which the emergence of democracy has done little to redress.

-Hannagan Johnson

Click here to purchase the book.

Lehoucq discusses civil war in Central America, Tulane University, Nov. 8, 2012