Central American Politics Consortium

The countries of Central America are home to some of the most pressing problems facing the Western Hemisphere today, among them migration, violence, corruption, inequality, democratic backsliding, and climate change. However, despite the region’s hemispheric significance, the systematic study of Central American politics and collaborative efforts to shed light on these wide-ranging challenges continue to lag behind.

While there are numerous networks, conferences, and speaker series dedicated to contemporary developments in Latin America writ large, conversations on Central America often remain peripheral within these spaces. And while scholars based in the subregion generate a wealth of research, there is no dedicated mechanism through which it can inform, and be informed by, the work of external scholars.

The countries of Central America were not always peripheral to northern social scientific research on Latin America. At the height of Cold War-era armed conflicts, political instability, and subsequent regime transitions and peace processes in the 1980s and 1990s, Central America was of tremendous interest to political scientists and sociologists who produced landmark studies on the dynamics of state repression, the roots of democratization, and the influence of the United States and international organizations in the region.

Much like this previous moment, Central America stands at a political crossroads. Though formal peace has endured, its promises have largely been exhausted as public confidence in state institutions reaches rock-bottom. Central American economies remain stagnant, and the immense gap between the region’s richest and poorest citizens persists. The northern Central American countries remain beset by staggering levels of criminal violence. In the past three years, political elites ousted internationally-backed anti-corruption commissions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to cement impunity and strengthen their institutional stranglehold. Broader global trends toward authoritarianism have also taken root in Central America, with Nicaragua’s Ortega regime eliminating political competition and silencing dissent through brutal repression. Leaders in El Salvador and Guatemala appear to be starting down a similar path, having purged independent judges and prosecutors to consolidate their authority. And the threats posed by climate change are likely to exacerbate food insecurity and displacement, further contributing to the surge in Central American migrants headed north.

To promote social scientific research and policy engagement on Central America, we propose the creation of the Central American Politics Consortium (CAPC), which will bring together scholars of political science, sociology, and other related social sciences to promote scholarly collaboration, as well as policy- and public-facing work on Central America’s contemporary political, social, and economic dynamics. Building on pre-pandemic conversations with prominent scholars and policy analysts, we envision the purpose of CAPC as three-fold:

  1. To promote conversation and collaboration among scholars of Central American politics: The first objective of CAPC is to bring together social science scholars whose research focuses on Central America to build a new network that will facilitate scholarly collaboration and exchange. As noted above, presently, scholars of Central American politics often find themselves to be one of a handful of researchers dedicated to the subregion within Latin America-focused scholarly networks, or to be one of a handful of social scientists within spaces focused on the study of Central America. To our knowledge, there is no existing research consortium, workshop, or speaker series intended to bring together social scientists examining political, social, and economic dynamics in Central America. As such, the primary purpose of CAPC will be to build this network to promote collaboration through workshops, speaker series (online, in-person, and hybrid), and digital platforms such as a website, listserv, and Twitter. We have already identified roughly 40 scholars from diverse institutions, backgrounds, and academic ranks and plan to reach out to them to gauge their interest and solicit ideas.

  2. To build bridges between US-based researchers and scholars and institutions in Central America: A second core objective of CAPC is to strengthen ties between US-based scholars of Central America and researchers and institutions in Central American countries. Drawing on members’ connections to universities, research centers, think tanks, and other institutions, CAPC will increase the visibility of Central American research initiatives and data collection efforts and promote transnational scholarly collaborations. Through these efforts, we also hope to connect graduate students and faculty in Central America to professional opportunities at US universities and research institutes to enhance their education and research. Given the alarming patterns of democratic backsliding and the criminalization of oppositional voices in several countries in the region, these linkages are even more critical to ensuring that scholars forced to flee their countries find places to continue their scholarly work.

  3. To connect scholars of Central American politics to the US and international policy community and translate research findings for policy and public audiences: The third key objective of CAPC is to serve as a bridge between scholars of Central American politics and US and international policymakers as well as the broader public. Because Central America’s major challenges are also transnational in nature, CAPC is well-positioned to play a leading role in translating research findings for the policy community and playing a constructive role in crafting evidence-based solutions to the region’s challenges. The long and troubled history of US-Central American relations and the well-established and vibrant Central American communities throughout the United States also necessitate greater public-facing efforts to provide background on and break down contemporary developments. Toward this end, we envision engaging CAPC experts in a series of policy memos derived from their empirical research, podcasts to shed light on pressing issues, and roundtables to promote exchange between scholars and policymakers.