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Unlikely Transitions to Uncertain Regimes? Democracy without Compromise in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009

Catherine M. Conaghan
Associate Professor of Political Science at Queen's University, Toronto.
Rosario Espinal
Associate Professor of Sociology at Temple University, Philadelphia.


Charting the historical paths to democracy has been a long-standing concern of political sociology.1 With the demise of authoritarian rule in Latin America over the last decade, a classic question of the genre has resurfaced: are there certain developmental sequences that are more likely to produce successful transitions to democracy? If there is any conclusion to be drawn from recent experiences, the answer is no. Highly heterogeneous circumstances have produced Latin America's most recent wave of democratisation. From the Caribbean to the Southern Cone, countries at different levels of economic development, with distinctive authoritarian legacies and divergent class structures, all underwent transitions to elected civilian governments in the last decade.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1990

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1 The classic work on the topic is Moore, Barrington Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston, 1966).Google Scholar In the same vein as Moore's macro-historical approach, see the discussion of France in Skocpol, Theda, State and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (Cambridge, 1979).CrossRefGoogle Scholar Also see the discussion of historical sequences in democratisation in Dahl, Robert, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven, Conn., 1971).Google Scholar

2 This notion of ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’ in a regime is taken from the discussion by O'Donnell, Guillermo and Schmitter, Philippe, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore, 1988), p. 65.Google Scholar They define ‘normality’ as a situation in which ‘actors have settled on and obey a set of more or less explicit rules defining the channels they may use to gain access to governing roles, the means they can legitimately employ in their conflicts with each other, the procedures they should apply in taking decisions, and the criteria they may use to exclude others from the game’.

3 Guillermo O'Donnell notes the exceptional character of the Dominican and Ecuadorean transitions, see his ‘Introduction to the Latin American Cases’, in O'Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe and Whitehead, Laurence (eds.) Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Latin America (Baltimore, 1986), p. 5.Google Scholar

4 The idea of democracy as class compromise is put forward in a number of works by Adam Przeworski. See, for example, Przeworski, Adam and Wallerstein, Michael, ‘The Structure of Class Conflict in Democratic Capitalist Societies’, American Political Science Review, vol. 76, no. 76 (1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Przeworski's, collection of essays, Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge, 1985).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 This overview of the historical development of these countries is based on our previous work. For a more detailed discussion of the Dominican case, see Espinal, Rosario, Antoritarismo y democracia en la político dominicana (San José, 1987).Google Scholar See also Espinal, 's ‘Classes, Power and Political Change in the Dominican Republic’, unpubl. PhD diss., Washington University, 1985.Google Scholar On Ecuador, see Conaghan, Catherine M., Restructuring Domination: Industrialists and the State in Ecuador (Pittsburgh, 1988).Google Scholar

6 For a discussion of this fragmentation in the early union movement see Middleton, Alan, ‘Division and Cohesion in the Working Class: Artisans and Wage Labourers in Ecuador’, Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 14, no. 1 (1982), pp. 171–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 For a detailed discussion of these events, see Gleijeses, Piero, The Dominican Crisis (Baltimore, 1978).Google Scholar

8 For a discussion of ‘demonstration elections’, see Herman, Edward and Broadhead, Frank, Demonstration Elections: U.S.-Staged Elections in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador (Boston, 1984).Google Scholar

9 United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, Statistical Yearbook for Latin America (New York, 1981), p. 107.Google Scholar

10 Vice-President Osvaldo Hurtado assumed the presidency in May 1981 after the death of President Roldós in a plane crash.

11 For a discussion of the stylistic tensions between the Hurtado government and business groups see Handelman, Howard, ‘Elite Interest Groups under Military and Democratic Regimes: Ecuador, 1972–1984’, paper delivered at the XII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 04 1985.Google Scholar

12 For further discussion of the Ecuadorean labour movement, see León, Jorge, ‘Compositión social y escena política en el sindicalismo ecuatoriano’, paper delivered at the XIV International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, 17–19 03 1988.Google Scholar See also Sáinz, Juan Pablo Pérez, Clase obrera y democracia en Ecuador (Quito, 1985).Google Scholar

13 For a discussion of the ‘privileged position’ of business in advanced capitalist systems see Lindblom, Charles, Politics and Markets: The World's Political Economic Systems (New York, 1977).Google Scholar

14 Lesser, Mishy, Conflicto y poder en un barrio popular de Quito (Quito, 1987).Google Scholar

15 Febres-Cordero's refusal to recognise the congressional amnesty for the dissident general, Frank Vargas Pazzos, triggered his kidnapping by Air Force paratroops in January 1987.

16 The reference is from Charles Lindblom's classic work on incrementalism in the policy process, see ‘The Science of “Muddling Through”’, in Etzioni, Amitai (ed.), Readings In Modern Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969), pp. 166–70.Google Scholar

17 For Juan Linz's classic description of how democracies break down, see his ‘Crisis, Breakdown, Reequilibration’, in Linz, Juan and Stepan, Alfred (eds) The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes (Baltimore, 1978).Google Scholar

18 For the most recent account, see O'Donnell, Guillermo, Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism: Argentina, 1966–1973, in Comparative Perspective, trans. McGuire, James (Berkeley, Calif., 1988).Google Scholar