Course Syllabus for "POLSC324: Latin American/Caribbean Politics".

"(Latin) America is ungovernable; all who have served the revolution have plowed the sea!"  Simon Bolivar, liberator of much of South America, spoke these famous words on his deathbed in 1830 while reflecting on what he deemed the failure of democracy to take root in Latin America in the early part of the 19th century.  Looking through the historical struggles in Latin America and the Caribbean over the last century and a half, these words continue to hold some truth.  The story of Latin America is one of inequality, complexity, failures, and unrealized possibilities.  Latin America and the Caribbean have entered into the 21st century with a legacy of persistent poverty, authoritarianism, corruption, and inequality. This course will introduce you to the politics of Latin America and the Caribbean and examine the causes and effects of the region’s development.  In many ways, Latin American/Caribbean politics defies any sort of coherent logic attempting to bring it together, a fact that is much reflected in the field of Latin American studies.  Instead of approaching the field in pursuit of one central theme, you must come at the topic from multiple directions and different perspectives. You will begin Unit 1: Foundations of Latin American Politics by examining the geographic, cultural, social, and historical foundations of Latin American and Caribbean politics.  As you shall see, the long period of colonialism has left a strong imprint on the region, strongly influencing the development of political institutions and behavior.  The region’s politics is also strongly influenced by social pressures, geographic factors, and unique cultural traits. Unit 2: Political Economy of Development looks at the major contending theories used to describe and explain socio-economic and political development (or the lack thereof) of this vibrant region.  Some of these theories were developed according to North American and European scholars’ assumptions about modernization; other theories were developed from the perspective of Latin American scholars and their direct experiences.  Despite important differences in how they explain Latin American development, a common theme of these theories is the effort to explain the uneven economic development and the persistence of poverty and inequality that have been at the root of many of the region’s political upheavals and revolutions and reactions. Unit 3: Democratization examines the causes and process by which most of Latin America became more democratic.  By the 1990s, almost all the countries of the region had democratically elected regimes and were continuing the process of consolidating and deepening their democratic reforms.  This unit will examine the institutions of democracy, such as the balance of power between legislatures and executives and electoral processes.  The unit will also give special attention to the political role of women in traditional male-dominated societies. Unit 4: U.S. – Latin American Relations looks at Latin America’s almost 200 year relationship with the United States.  The United States government and American corporations have been important actors in the Latin American political arena.  The United States has long-viewed the region as its rightful “sphere of influence” and has often intervened in the region to protect its perceived security and economic interests, in what is sometimes described as neocolonialism.  These interventions have taken myriad forms, ranging from economic and social development policies, covert operations, and even outright military intervention.  The unit will examine how the United States’ role has shaped its political relations with the region. Finally, Unit 5: Current Regional Issues explores several contemporary issues that most countries of the region face: trade and economic integration; drug trafficking and the U.S.-led “war on drugs;” immigration (legal and illegal); and the rise of a new challenger to U.S. traditional domination of the region: China.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed the following prerequisites from the “Core Program” of the Political Science discipline: POLSC 101: Introduction to Politics and POLSC 221: Comparative Politics.  It is also recommended that you complete POLSC 211: International Relations before taking this course.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC324.  Below, please find some general information about the course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Dr. Kenneth L. Johnson

Primary Resource: This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials.  However, there is one resource that will be extensively used in Unit 3:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Unit 1 as this lays the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material presented in later units.  You will also need to complete:

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the quizzes and problem sets listed above.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: The total amount of time required to complete this course is approximately 75 hours.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 13 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3.5 hours) on Monday; subunit 1.2 and sub-subunit 1.3.1 (a total of 3 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.  By making such a schedule and setting goals for each day of study, you will be able to complete the course in the allotted time.

Tips/Suggestions: Before reading or watching each of the resources, it is important to review the instructions for each resource and the accompanying study questions, which will contain key concepts and vocabulary that you are expected to learn from that resource.  As you work through the resource, write notes in accordance with the study questions.  These study questions will provide you with the basis for reviewing the material for your Final Exam.

Additional Resources: If you are interested in learning more about Latin American and Caribbean politics or would like to keep up with current events in the region, the following is a list of useful resources specializing in the region:

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages linked above.

Course Overview

  • 2.2.3 Linear Stages of Growth Model (Modernization Theory)  
  • 2.2.4 Neo-Marxist Theory  
  • 2.2.5 Neo-Classical  
  • 2.3 Revolutionary Change  
  • 2.3.1 Revolution and the Cold War: Guatemala and Cuba  
  • 2.3.2 Revolutionary Cuba: Castro and Beyond  
  • 2.3.3 Nicaragua: Unfinished Revolution  
  • 2.4 Latin America Today: Two Decades of Neo-Liberalism--How Much Has Changed?  
  • 2.4.1 The Success of Neo-Liberalism  
  • 2.4.2 The Failure of Neo-Liberalism  
  • 2.4.3 Post-Neoliberalism: The Left’s Alternative  
  • 2.4.4 Future of Latin American Development  
  • Unit 3: Democratization  

    After enduring decades of dictatorships marred by political violence, human rights abuses and widespread political violence and revolutions, beginning in the mid-1970s, Latin America experienced a wave of democratization.  By the 1990s, almost all the countries of the region had democratically elected regimes and were continuing the process of consolidating and deepening their democratic reforms.  These transitions focused on building institutions that would encourage political participation and encourage the protection of fundamental citizen rights.  The first part of this unit will look at some indicators of democracy, to provide an overview of just how democratic the countries of the region have become.  Next, there is a set of readings that focus on key institutions such as presidencies, legislatures, and political parties and how the creation of these institutions has led to increased citizen participation and governmental accountability. Afterwards, special attention will be given to the role of women in the democratization process.  In recent years, Latin America has had several female presidents, more representation in elected offices, and a more influential role at the grassroots level—all of which point to a possible lessening of the traditional machismo culture that has long characterized the region. 

    Unit 3 Time Advisory
    This unit should take you approximately 15.5 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 3.1: 1 hour

    ☐    Subunit 3.2: 10 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.2.1: 2 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.2.2: 2 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.2.3: 2 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.2.4: 2 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.2.5: 2 hours

    ☐    Subunit 3.3: 4.5 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.3.1: 3.5 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 3.3.2: 1 hour

    Unit3 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
    • Identify key indicators of democracy among the major countries of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

    • Explain the importance of institutions that encourage participation, including elections and political parties.

    • Identify differences among countries in the balance of institutional power among executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

    • Describe the role and impact of women’s participation in the political processes of Latin America’s major democracies.
  • 3.1 Indicators of Democracy in Latin America  
  • 3.2 Institution-building and Democracy  
  • 3.2.1 Role of the State and Politics in Latin American Development  
  • 3.2.2 Balance of Powers: Executive vs. Legislatures  
  • 3.2.3 Role of Political Parties  
  • 3.2.4 Elections and Citizen Participation  
  • 3.2.5 Conclusion: Institutionalization of Democracy in Latin America  
  • 3.3 Role of Women in Democracies Today  
  • 3.3.1 Women in Electoral Offices  
  • 3.3.2 Role and Women in Grassroots Movements  
  • Unit 4: The United States and Latin America  

    From its historical legacy as a series of European colonies through revolution and modern times, Latin America has often been defined by its close proximity to the United States of America.  Speaking of Mexico in the mid-1900s, longtime dictator and president of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915) described this relationship as follows: "¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!"  (“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”)  Much of Latin America, for right or wrong, would express this same sentiment.
    Latin Americans have long had a “love-hate” relationship with the U.S.  On the one-hand, Latin Americans are enamored with American culture and admire its technological, economic, and political strengths.  On the other hand, they are highly suspicious and resentful of the way the United States’ government has often exercised its great power throughout the region.  This is largely because of the United States’ long and deep involvement throughout the region, including numerous military interventions; support for dictators; secret plots to remove or assassinate anti-American political leaders; and countless legal, economic, and political manipulations designed to maintain and promote U.S. interests and power in the region.  

    Unit 4 Time Advisory
    This unit should take you approximately 8 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 4.1: 4 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 4.1.1: 1.5 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 4.1.2: 2.5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 4.2: 4 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 4.2.1: 0.25 hour

    ☐    Sub-subunit 4.2.2: 1 hour

    ☐    Sub-subunit 4.2.3: 1.75 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 4.2.4: 1 hour

    Unit4 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
    • Describe the major historical milestones and patterns in the historical development of U.S. relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.

    • Identify common misconceptions and stereotypes of U.S. citizens toward Latin America and its people.

    • Explain the various means by which the United States has sought to exercise its influence over the region.

    • Describe the role of the United States in promoting democracy throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • 4.1 History of U.S. – Latin American Relations  
  • 4.1.1 Timeline of U.S.-Latin American Relations  
  • 4.1.2 Overview of U.S.–Latin American Relations  
  • 4.2 Current Perspectives on US-Latin American Relations  
  • 4.2.1 U.S. Stereotypes of Latin American People  
  • 4.2.2 Latin American Perspectives on Relationship with U.S.  
  • 4.2.3 Mexico’s Relationship with the U.S.  
  • 4.2.4 Current U.S. Government Perspective on Relationship with Latin America  
  • Unit 5: Current Regional Issues  

    The final unit of this course concludes by examining some major issues that currently confront the nation: regional economic integration, the war on drugs, immigration (both internal and external, and globalization.  Economic integration among Latin American countries has long been a goal of many governments of the region.  Looking toward the European Union as a kind of model, the purpose of such integration was to not only achieve economic self-sufficiency but also to cultivate greater economic self-reliance in their pursuit of development goals and regional security. 

    Since the independence of Central and South American colonies, regional integration has been attempted in various forms with varying degrees of success.  The goals of integration have included the promotion of regional trade, lessening dependence on the U.S., and creating a common identity and sense of purpose that would bind together the countries of the continents of South, Central, and North America (Mexico).  The first true efforts at aligning American interests across the continents did not begin until as late as 1826, with the Congress of Panama, organized and led by the visionary Simon Bolivar (founder of Venezuela).  Over the last 175 years, these efforts continued but were met with limited success.  For example, there have been over 20 region-wide conferences and conventions of the Americas designed to more fully integrate the two continents.  One reason was the resistance by the United States, which was wary of any efforts of Latin American countries to integrate, knowing that successful integration would provide a counter-weight to U.S. influence in the region.  Instead, the U.S. pushed for the creation of an organization in which it was the leader, creating the Organization of American States (formalized in 1890), with headquarters in Washington, D.C.  In 1994, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico entered the North American Free Trade Association agreement (NAFTA), the goal of which was to promote free trade on all goods and services in the North American continent.  The success of NAFTA then encouraged a more ambitious integration effort, known as Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), developed in 1998.  This effort, however, has floundered, especially after the election of leftist governments in several countries that sought to distance themselves from the U.S., such as the election of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.  Chavez is the leftist leader of Venezuela’s populist revolution, created the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (formalized in 2004), an effort to establish economic and security self-reliance independently of the U.S.  However, political tensions continue to play an important part in preventing true integration (for example, ongoing border disputes between Venezuela and Colombia), and the U.S. has continued to use its economic might and security concerns to prevent the autonomous integration of Latin America.

    The next issue that Unit 5 examines is the War on Drugs.  The trafficking of illegal drugs (especially cocaine) and the United States’ effort to stop it has resulted in continued anti-American resentment, political violence and terrorism, social instability, and economic slowdown in the traditional (legal) economies of the region.  The War on Drugs pits drug cartels and leftist guerilla movements against the governments of the Latin America.  In the 1980s, Colombia was the epicenter of this war, becoming one of the most dangerous and violent countries of the world, with Medellin earning the dubious distinction as the “murder capital” of the world.  By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the main battleground shifted to Mexico, where today thousands of people are killed each year in drug-related violence.

    A third major issue confronting the region is immigration.  As with all developing countries around the world, Latin American people are on the move: from countryside to cities, and from country to country.  By far, the biggest magnet for Latin Americans is the U.S., which continues to attract hundreds of thousands of people each year, people in search of economic security, better living conditions, and fulfillment of their dreams.  This vast migration is fueled by a series of factors, which push, pull, and facilitate the movement of people across borders, often in highly dangerous conditions.  In this unit, you will look at both the causes and consequences of immigration and how it affects the political development of the region.

    Finally, the unit concludes with an examination of a new actor in the region: China.  China’s fast-paced industrialization and thirst for raw materials provides a renewed impetus for economic growth in the region and also provides a potential counterweight to U.S. influence.

    Unit 5 Time Advisory
    This unit should take you approximately 15.5 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 5.1: 2.5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 5.2: 4 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 5.2.1: 1 hour

    ☐    Sub-subunit 5.2.2: 2 hours

    ☐    Sub-subunit 5.2.3: 1 hour

    ☐    Subunit 5.3: 1 hour

    ☐    Subunit 5.4: 2 hours

    ☐    Subunit 5.5: 2 hours
    Unit5 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
    • Assess the effectiveness of various efforts at trade integration as a strategy for achieving regional development goals.

    • Describe the impact of the USA’s “war on drugs” on the socio-economic development and political stability of Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American suppliers of cocaine and other illegal drugs.

    • Enumerate the causes and consequences of legal and illegal immigration on the development of Latin America and the region’s political relations with the USA.

    • Explain the effectiveness of using oil as a political tool by the Venezuelan government.

    • Explain why China has become more influential in Latin America.
  • 5.1 Regional Integration and Trade  
  • 5.1.1 History of Regional Integration Efforts  
  • 5.1.2 Challenges of Regional Integration  
  • 5.2 The War on Drugs  
  • 5.2.1 History of America’s War on Drugs  
  • 5.2.2 Colombia and the War on Drugs  
  • 5.2.3 Mexico and the War on Drugs  
  • 5.3 Immigration  
  • 5.4 Petro-Politics  
  • 5.4.1 Politics of Oil in Latin America  
  • 5.4.2 Venezuela’s Oil Politics  
  • 5.5 China and Latin America  
  • 5.5.1 China’s Interests in Latin America  
  • 5.5.2 China’s Challenge  
  • Unit 6: Final Exam