Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-99c86f546-kpmwg Total loading time: 0.408 Render date: 2021-12-03T11:57:53.960Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Assessing Freedom of Information in Latin America a Decade Later: Illuminating a Transparency Causal Mechanism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Gregory Michener*
Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration, Fundação Getúlio Vargas.


More than 100 freedom of information (FOI) laws have been enacted worldwide, nearly half within the last 10 years. Yet these cross-domain, lynchpin transparency measures have received little scholarly attention. This article assesses the 16 FOI measures adopted across Latin America. Is secrecy being surrendered in a region marked by legacies of opacity? Why are some laws fulfilling their de jure potential in practice while others are not? This article aims to achieve 3 general objectives. It analyzes the de jure and de facto strength of Latin American FOI regimes; it exposes critical data-based and methodological challenges in evaluating and comparing transparency laws; and it illustrates how a causal mechanism, driven by the interactive dynamics of legislative balances of power and cabinet compositions, has had a determinate influence in shaping the strength of FOI regimes from adoption to implementation and reform.

Copyright © University of Miami 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adcock, Robert, and Collier, David. 2002. Measurement Validity: a Shared Standard for Qualitative and Quantitative Research. American Political Science Review 95, 3: 529–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información. 2012. Saber más Iv: Informe regional sobre acceso a la información pública y la alianza de gobierno abierto (Open Government Partnership). Montevideo.Google Scholar
Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información. 2013. Saber más V: Informe regional sobre acceso a información pública y procesos electorales.Google Scholar
Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información. 2014. Saber más Vi: Informe regional sobre acceso a información pública y apelaciones.Google Scholar
Alt, James E., and Dreyer Lassen, David. 2006. Fiscal Transparency, Political Parties, and Debt in Oecd Countries. European Economic Review 50, 6: 1403–39. doi: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2005.04.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alt, James E., and Dreyer Lassen, David. 2008. Political and Judicial Checks on Corruption: Evidence from American State Governments. Economics & Politics 20, 1: 3361. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0343.2007.00319.x.Google Scholar
Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2006. The Presidential Calculus: Executive Policy Making and Cabinet Formation in the Americas. Comparative Political Studies 39, 4: 415–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Andeweg, Rudy B. 2000. Ministers as Double Agents? the Delegation Process between Cabinet and Ministers. European Journal of Political Research 37, 3: 377–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Balán, Manuel. 2011. Competition by Denunciation: the Political Dynamics of Corruption Scandals in Argentina and Chile. Comparative Politics 43, 4: 459–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Banfi, Karina. 2013. Director, Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression and Information. Personal communication.Google Scholar
Bellver, Ana, Mendiburu, Marcos, and Poli, Maria. 2008. Let the Sunshine In: The Making of the Transparency and Access to Information Law in Honduras. Prem Notes 118. Washington, DC: World Bank. Scholar
Berliner, Daniel. 2014. The Political Origins of Transparency. Journal of Politics 76, 2: 479–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carroll, Royce, and Cox, Gary W.. 2012. Shadowing Ministers: Monitoring Partners in Coalition Governments. Comparative Political Studies 45, 2: 220–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Casas, Javier. 2012. Interview on the state of the Peruvian Freedom of Information Law. Author telephone interview.Google Scholar
Darch, Colin, and Underwood, Peter G.. 2010. Freedom of Information and the Developing World. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eaton, Kent. 2013. The Centralism of “Twenty-First-Century Socialism”: Recentralising Politics in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Journal of Latin American Studies 45, 3: 421–50. doi: 10.1017/S0022216X13000795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
The Economist. 2004. Panama's New President: Not His Father's Son? May 6. Scholar
Evans, Michael. 2013. National Security Exemptions Stir Controversy in Colombia. January 10. Google Scholar
Falleti, Tulia G., and Lynch, Julia F.. 2009. Context and Causal Mechanisms in Political Analysis. Comparative Political Studies 42, 9: 1143–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferraro, Agustín. 2008. Friends in High Places: Congressional Influence on the Bureaucracy in Chile. Latin American Politics and Society 50, 2: 101–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garrido, Elizabeth. 2012. El mismo derecho del ministro a tener información, lo tiene un ciudadano. La Prensa (Guatemala City), January 22.Google Scholar
George, Alexander L., and Bennett, Andrew. 2005. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
Gingerich, Daniel W. 2013. Governance Indicators and the Level of Analysis Problem: Empirical Findings from South America. British Journal of Political Science 43, 3: 505–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gregorio, Carlos. 2014. Interview on the Functionality of the Uruguayan Freedom of Information Law. Author interview. September 27.Google Scholar
Grigorescu, Alexandru. 2003. International Organizations and Government Transparency: Linking the International and Domestic Realms. International Studies Quarterly 47, 4: 643–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hazell, Robert, and Worthy, Ben. 2010. Assessing the Performance of Freedom of Information. Government Information Quarterly 27, 4: 352–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hunter, Wendy. 2010. The Transformation of the Workers' Party in Brazil, 1989–2009. New York: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kasuya, Yuko. 2012. Democracy and Transparency: Enacting the Freedom of Information Acts around the World. Paper prepared for the International Transparency Conference, Utrecht, June 7–9.Google Scholar
Keck, Margaret, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Google Scholar
Kim, Dong-Hun, and Loewenberg, Gerhard. 2005. The Role of Parliamentary Committees in Coalition Governments: Keeping Tabs on Coalition Partners in the German Bundestag. Comparative Political Studies 38, 9: 1104–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Libre, Latinoamérica. 2013. Panamá: historia política reciente. Google Scholar
Legislative Assembly of Panama. 2001. Congressional Transcript, Ordinary Session. December 5. Panama City.Google Scholar
Lehoucq, Fabrice, Negretto, Gabriel, Aparicio, Francisco, Nacif, Benito, and Benton, Allyson. 2008. Policymaking in Mexico Under One-Party Hegemony and Divided Government. In Policymaking in Latin America: How Politics Shapes Policies, ed. Stein, Ernesto and Tommasi, Mariano. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank. 287329.Google Scholar
Lupia, Arthur, and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 2000. Representation or Abdication? How Citizens Use Institutions to Help Delegation Succeed. European Journal of Political Research 37, 3: 291307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Madrid, Raúl L. 2003. Retiring the State: The Politics of Pension Privatization in Latin America and Beyond. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Google Scholar
Martin, Lanny W., and Vanberg, Georg. 2004. Policing the Bargain: Coalition Government and Parliamentary Scrutiny. American Journal of Political Science 48, 1: 1327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Melo, Marcus, Pereira, Carlos, and Werneck, Heitor. 2010. Delegation Dilemmas: Coalition Size, Electoral Risk, and Regulatory Governance in New Democracies. Legislative Studies Quarterly 35, 1: 3156. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mendel, Toby. 2009. The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey. Quito: UNESCO. Google Scholar
Michener, Gregory. 2009a. The News Media's Prospective Accountability Function: Explaining Variable Press Support for Access to Government Information Laws in Six Latin American Countries. Paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Conference, Toronto, September 6–9.Google Scholar
Michener, Gregory. 2009b. Freedom of Information Legislation and the Media in Latin America. Features. Scholar
Michener, Gregory. 2009c. Lessons from Media Coverage for the Right-to-Know in Latin America. Features. Scholar
Michener, Gregory. 2011. Foi Laws around the World. Journal of Democracy 22, 2: 145–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Michener, Gregory. 2014. How Cabinet Size and Legislative Control Shape the Strength of Transparency Laws. Governance 20, 1: 7794.Google Scholar
Nacif, Benito. 2005. Congress Proposes and the President Disposes. In Mexico Governance: From Single Party Rule to Divided Government, ed. Rioff, Sara and Peschard-Sverdrup, Armand B.. Washington, DC: CSIS Press. 126.Google Scholar
Neuman, Laura. 2009. Enforcement Models: Content and Context. Access to Information Working Paper Series. Washington, DC: World Bank. Google Scholar
Neuman, Laura, and Calland, Richard. 2007. Making the Law Work: The Challenges of Implementation. In The Right to Know: Transparency for an Open World, ed. Florini, Ann. New York: Columbia University Press. 179213.Google Scholar
Open Society Justice Initiative. 2006. Transparency and Silence: A Survey of Access to Information Laws and Practices in Fourteen Countries. Justice in Action Series. New York: Open Society Institute. Google Scholar
Organization of American States. 2012. Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Washington, DC: OAS. Google Scholar
Pearlman, Mitchell W. 2010. Piercing the Veil of Secrecy: Lessons in the Fight for Freedom of Information. 1st ed. LawFirst Publishing/Connecticut Bar Association.Google Scholar
Pereira, Carlos, Power, Timothy, and Raile, Eric. 2011. Presidentialism, Coalitions, and Accountability. In Corruption and Democracy in Brazil, ed. Power, and Taylor, Matthew M.. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 3155.Google Scholar
Pierson, Paul. 1995. Fragmented Welfare States: Federal Institutions and the Development of Social Policy. Governance 8, 4: 449–78. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0491.1995.tb00223.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pierson, Paul. 2000. Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics. American Political Science Review 94, 2: 251–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ramos, Isabel. 2013. Trayectorias de democratización y desdemocratización de la comunicación en Ecuador. Íconos: Revista de Ciencias Sociales 0, 46: 6782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Riker, William H. 1962. The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale University Press. Google Scholar
Roberts, Alasdair. 2006. Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age. New York: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sullivan, Mark P. 2012. Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations. CRS Report for Congress 7-5700. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.Google Scholar
Taylor, Ralph B., Clinton, B. Soto, De, and Lieb, Robert. 1979. Sharing Secrets: Disclosure and Discretion in Dyads and Triads. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37, 7: 11961203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thies, Michael F. 2001. Keeping Tabs on Partners: the Logic of Delegation in Coalition Governments. American Journal of Political Science 45, 3: 580–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vieira, Marcelo Martins. 2013. Controle político da burocracia no presidencialismo de coalizão. Ph.D. diss., Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro.Google Scholar
Wehner, Joachim, and De Renzio, Paolo. 2013. Citizens, Legislators, and Executive Disclosure: the Political Determinants of Fiscal Transparency. in-depth Research on Budget Transparency, Participation, and Accountability. World Development 41 (January): 96108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weyland, Kurt G. 2004. Learning from Foreign Models of Policy Reform. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Google Scholar
Weyland, Kurt G. 2013. The Threat from the Populist Left. Journal of Democracy 24, 3: 1832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Assessing Freedom of Information in Latin America a Decade Later: Illuminating a Transparency Causal Mechanism
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Assessing Freedom of Information in Latin America a Decade Later: Illuminating a Transparency Causal Mechanism
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Assessing Freedom of Information in Latin America a Decade Later: Illuminating a Transparency Causal Mechanism
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *