Regime sustainability in the Latin Caribbean, 1944-1994
This study attempts to compare the strength of institutional explanations for regime change and stability with other lines of analysis on the basis of data drawn from the Latin Caribbean. At the current stage of research, the pivotal theoretical question is not whether institutions matter, which they clearly do, but rather how much they matter relative to other sets of explanatory variables. Only by broadening the horizons of comparative research in ways that do not automatically privilege one line of explanation, whether structural, cultural, or institutional in nature, can we begin to develop a more unified and consensual understanding of the processes shaping regime sustainability. What has enhanced the sustainability of democratic rule in the region is the level of economic development. Consistent with the extended body of research on the relationship between development and democracy, the higher the per capita income, the greater the sustainability of political democracy. For authoritarianism, the relationship runs in the opposite direction. Also relevant to understanding the sustainability of both types of regimes are regional political trends. The final set of findings of major theoretical significance are those relating to the role of political institutions. Although the evidence linking the relative competitiveness of democracies with regime sustainability is weak, authoritarian regimes whose political institutions include elections and legislative bodies have been less vulnerable to overthrow than their counterparts in the Latin Caribbean. To put it another way, the more authoritarian regimes have resembled democracies, the greater their viability, presumably because competitive institutions, no matter how limited, enhance international and domestic perceptions of political legitimacy and dampen the incentives and opportunities for regime opponents to pursue strategies of regime overthrow. Thus variations within the authoritarian category as well as between authoritarian and democratic regimes speak more to the robustness than the fragility of democracy as a form of governance.
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