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Rethinking the Legacy of the Liberal State in Latin America: The cases of Argentina (1853–1916) and Mexico (1857–1910)

    • Published online: 17 November 2000

The predominant interpretation of nineteenth century Latin America is to see the failure of constitutional democracy in the region in terms of the inability of liberal elites to break with an authoritarian past. Against these views, we argue that the divorce between liberalism and democracy in Latin America was the unintended outcome of the institutions created by the liberal elite in response to the problems of territorial fragmentation and factional conflict that emerged after the fall of the Spanish empire. Using the cases of Argentina and Mexico, we support this proposition by focusing on the creation of a centralised form of government and a system of electoral control by the ruling elites as the main factors that through time prevented the evolution of the liberal regime into a competitive democracy.

There is no good faith in America, nor among the nations of America. Treaties are scraps of paper; constitutions, printed matter; elections, battles; freedom, anarchy; and life, a torment.

Simón Bolívar

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The authors wish to thank the participants at the ‘Authoritarian Legacies in Latin America and Southern Europe’ conference (Buenos Aires, August 1998) for their comments, criticisms and suggestions to an earlier version of this article. Particular thanks are due to Professor Edward Marlefakis and Ivan Jaksic.
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Journal of Latin American Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-216X
  • EISSN: 1469-767X
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-latin-american-studies
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