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POLSC324: Latin American/Caribbean Politics

Course Syllabus for "POLSC324: Latin American/Caribbean Politics"

"(Latin) America is ungovernable; all who have served the revolution have plowed the sea!"  Simon Bolivar, liberator of much of South America, spoke these famous words on his deathbed in 1830 while reflecting on what he deemed the failure of democracy to take root in Latin America in the early part of the 19th century.  Looking through the historical struggles in Latin America and the Caribbean over the last century and a half, these words continue to hold some truth.  The story of Latin America is one of inequality, complexity, failures, and unrealized possibilities.  Latin America and the Caribbean have entered into the 21st century with a legacy of persistent poverty, authoritarianism, corruption, and inequality. This course will introduce you to the politics of Latin America and the Caribbean and examine the causes and effects of the region’s development.  In many ways, Latin American/Caribbean politics defies any sort of coherent logic attempting to bring it together, a fact that is much reflected in the field of Latin American studies.  Instead of approaching the field in pursuit of one central theme, you must come at the topic from multiple directions and different perspectives. You will begin Unit 1: Foundations of Latin American Politics by examining the geographic, cultural, social, and historical foundations of Latin American and Caribbean politics.  As you shall see, the long period of colonialism has left a strong imprint on the region, strongly influencing the development of political institutions and behavior.  The region’s politics is also strongly influenced by social pressures, geographic factors, and unique cultural traits. Unit 2: Political Economy of Development looks at the major contending theories used to describe and explain socio-economic and political development (or the lack thereof) of this vibrant region.  Some of these theories were developed according to North American and European scholars’ assumptions about modernization; other theories were developed from the perspective of Latin American scholars and their direct experiences.  Despite important differences in how they explain Latin American development, a common theme of these theories is the effort to explain the uneven economic development and the persistence of poverty and inequality that have been at the root of many of the region’s political upheavals and revolutions and reactions. Unit 3: Democratization examines the causes and process by which most of Latin America became more democratic.  By the 1990s, almost all the countries of the region had democratically elected regimes and were continuing the process of consolidating and deepening their democratic reforms.  This unit will examine the institutions of democracy, such as the balance of power between legislatures and executives and electoral processes.  The unit will also give special attention to the political role of women in traditional male-dominated societies. Unit 4: U.S. – Latin American Relations looks at Latin America’s almost 200 year relationship with the United States.  The United States government and American corporations have been important actors in the Latin American political arena.  The United States has long-viewed the region as its rightful “sphere of influence” and has often intervened in the region to protect its perceived security and economic interests, in what is sometimes described as neocolonialism.  These interventions have taken myriad forms, ranging from economic and social development policies, covert operations, and even outright military intervention.  The unit will examine how the United States’ role has shaped its political relations with the region. Finally, Unit 5: Current Regional Issues explores several contemporary issues that most countries of the region face: trade and economic integration; drug trafficking and the U.S.-led “war on drugs;” immigration (legal and illegal); and the rise of a new challenger to U.S. traditional domination of the region: China. **

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Describe the geographic, demographic, economic, and cultural context within which Latin American political systems are situated.
  • Explain the region’s lack of development with reference to contending theories of political economy: modernization, structuralism, dependency, and neo-classical.
  • Describe the processes of democratization, with special focus on institution-building that promote democratic participation and accountability.
  • Trace the historical evolution of U.S. policy towards Latin America and its impact on the region’s political development.
  • Acquire multiple perspectives on and discuss current issues facing the region, including trade and economic integration, the war on drugs, immigration, and globalization.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed the following prerequisites from the “Core Program” of the Political Science discipline: POLSC 101: Introduction to Politics and POLSC 221: Comparative Politics.  It is also recommended that you complete POLSC 211: International Relations before taking this course.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC324.  Below, please find some general information about the course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Dr. Kenneth L. Johnson

Primary Resource: This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials.  However, there is one resource that will be extensively used in Unit 3:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Unit 1 as this lays the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material presented in later units.  You will also need to complete:

  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the quizzes and problem sets listed above.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: The total amount of time required to complete this course is approximately 75 hours.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 13 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3.5 hours) on Monday; subunit 1.2 and sub-subunit 1.3.1 (a total of 3 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.  By making such a schedule and setting goals for each day of study, you will be able to complete the course in the allotted time.

Tips/Suggestions: Before reading or watching each of the resources, it is important to review the instructions for each resource and the accompanying study questions, which will contain key concepts and vocabulary that you are expected to learn from that resource.  As you work through the resource, write notes in accordance with the study questions.  These study questions will provide you with the basis for reviewing the material for your Final Exam.

Additional Resources: If you are interested in learning more about Latin American and Caribbean politics or would like to keep up with current events in the region, the following is a list of useful resources specializing in the region:

  • The Americas: Council on Foreign Relations: The Council on Foreign Relations is a prestigious think tank.  Click here for many good links to news and articles about Latin America.
  • Council of the Americas. This is a pro-business organization founded by leading companies in 1955.  Based in Washington, D.C., its mission is to promote the economic, social and political development throughout the Americas. 
  • Latin American Studies Association: (LASA) homepage.
  • David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies: Harvard University: This site offers up-to-the-minute information about Boston area events related to Latin America (lectures, seminars, concerts, etc.). It also provides access to the Latin America Database, a comprehensive news monitoring service sponsored by the Center.

Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages linked above.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.