The Persistence of Latin America’s Violent Democracies


This review examines Votes, Drugs, and Violence, Authoritarian Police in Democracy, Resisting Extortion, as well as Democracy and Security in Latin America to outline the latest scholarly developments on how the region has dealt with the challenges posed by violent, militarized state and non-state actors. Leveraging distinct cases and methods, these four recently published books discuss the political rationale behind the military and institutional responses that have shaped public security in Latin America over the last three decades. Beyond unpacking their contributions, common themes, tensions, and shortcomings, we argue that by focusing on the political dynamics behind state interventions, these volumes highlight the persistence of a democratic paradox: rather than curtailing militarism and violence, or facilitating their containment via reforms, electoral dynamics and partisan incentives—part and parcel of democratic politics—have enabled the endurance of state and non-state militarization and violence. Relatedly, as Eduardo Moncada’s new title underscores, ordinary Latin American citizens have had to adopt civilian militarization as a bottom-up resistance strategy to navigate the uncertainty this worrying paradox presents. By examining work by scholars including Guillermo Trejo, Sandra Ley, Brian Fonseca, and Yanilda María González this review helps to delineate future research as well as policy interventions.

Alternatives: Global, Local, Political
Javier Pérez Sandoval
Javier Pérez Sandoval
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

My research focuses on subnational regime heterogeneity across Latin America.