Latin American Studies Essay


Briefly talk about failed states, why they fail and where they are mostly situated, talk about it also in terms of their culture and history …colonization.

Critically analyze the current situation in the Latin American region and why states could be categorized as failed states (name certain countries and give examples). But also highlight developments made during the last years towards non failed states (states and examples.
Evaluate and examine the options available to Latin American failed states to improve standards.
Include the issue of globalization in relation to failed states and their development.
Strong introduction and conclusion


Title: Latin America’s failed states: Is there a way out?


            There are varying definitions of the term ‘failed state’. However, most commentators define the term in relation to successful states, which they presumed to be the norm. In this case, successful states are those that control clearly defined territories, are able to monopolize legitimate violence, and have been successful in ensuring that their populations have an adequate supply of social goods. Failed states, on the other hand, are those countries that have lost control over various means of violence within their territories and are also not able to control their territories or create stability and peace for their populations. Failed states also are unable to ensure that there is economic growth and that social goods have been reasonably distributed to the citizens (, 2012).

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            This paper provides a critical analysis of the concept of ‘failed states’. It explores why these countries fail, where they are mostly situated, and their culture and history, particularly with reference to their colonial history. In this regard, the paper takes a closer look at the failed states in Latin America and the options that these states have to improve their standards. lastly, the problems bedeviling are evaluated in light of the issue of globalization and how it contributes to their development.

Brief description of failed states

Some of the main characteristics of failed states include massive economic inequalities, violent competition for the available resources, and the emergence of warlords (Lozada, 2003). In recent times, several states have turned into failed states, with the best examples being Somalia and the former Yugoslavia (Youngers, 2005;, 2010). Moreover, the crises witnessed in Rwanda, Liberia, Haiti, Sierra Leone, and Congo made these countries to join the league of failed states.

            In other countries, there are serious crises but they have not reached a level that makes them qualify to be referred to as failed states (Devlin, 2010). Instead, they are referred to as ‘weak states’ or ‘failing states’. Most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa belong to this category. The same case applies to parts of south Asia and Latin America as well as significant chunks of countries of central Asia. Among these ‘weak’ states, there are tremendous variations in the degree of weakness. In some cases, the governance structures are fragile yet the countries have substantial regional influence as well as wealth examples of such countries include Pakistan Colombia, and Indonesia (McLeana, 2002). These countries sometimes appear to be on brink of collapse because of simple anarchy and civil war.

            State failure brings about numerous challenges to the contemporary international system. In all cases of state failure, humanitarian challenges are rife because it becomes extremely difficult for even the most basic of human needs to be satisfied. State failure breeds violence, poverty, disease, and flow of refugees (Centeno, 2002) Moreover, such states are a source of serious security threats to successful states. For example, in the post-9/11 era, failed states have been a breeding ground for extremist groups (, 2012). These groups take advantage of the state of lawlessness and anarchy in such countries to organize themselves and stage attacks on successful states. Moreover, in failed states where warlords rule and armed gangs control neighborhoods, illicit economic activities thrive, further weakening the state’s economic system.

There are many reasons why states fail. Both aspects of culture (such as attitudes, religion, and values) and geography (such as topography and climate, and disease environments) have an influence for the ability by human beings to form societies that function properly (O’Donnell, 1993; Ramsey, 2012; Acemoglu, 2012). These two factors have a bearing on the ability by nations to take advantages of emerging new economic opportunities. A case in point is that of Latin America; as late as during the mid-18th century, Latin America was likely richer compared to North America (Molina, 2010). However, the US, just like Britain, was able to take advantage of economic opportunities during the 19th and 20th centuries, thereby becoming by far more prosperous (Hakim, 2000).

One of the theories that explain the reasons for failure of some nations is the ignorance hypothesis. The ignorance hypothesis states that failed states have failed because their leadership continues adopting bad economic policies unknowingly. The leaders of such states fail to realize that such policies are going to leader their nations weak and eventually lead them on the path of failure. This theory is in contrast to the public choice theory, which is founded on the view that government purposefully put in place bad economic policies simply because they view them as ‘good politics’.

            The alternate view is that of the theory of institutions (Traub, 2011). In this regard, the dominant view is that the nature of institutions that are in place in a state determines whether the state is going to prosper or fail (Traub, 2011). In this regard, focus is on extractive and inclusive institutions. Extractive economic institutions are characterized by a lack of law and order, entry barriers, regulations that prevent proper functioning of markets, insecure properly rights, and non-level playing field for investors (Forman, 2011). In extractive political institutions power is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. There are no checks and balance and there is no rule of law (Boas, 2005).

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            On the other hand, inclusive economic institutions are characterized by secure property rights, state and market support, relatively ease of entry for new businesses, access to opportunity for the great majority of the country’s citizens, and upholding of contracts (Rotberg, 2003). Inclusive political institutions are equally prosperity-friendly; they encourage pluralism and allow broad participation (Thies, 2005). They also put checks and balance on politicians and the rule of law is upheld (Leiva, 2008). In some of the inclusive political institutions, political centralization is deemed necessary to some degree to facilitate the effective enforcement of law and order. From the view of the theory of institutions, it is evident that states that fail have put in place extractive political and economic institutions.

            With regard to culture and history of failed states, an important starting point is the view that most of these states were never operating as properly-functioning states at any time in history, for example Afghanistan and Congo (Azpuru, 2010). The fact that they have never been successful states makes it fallacious to refer to them as failed states. In these states, colonial rule played a critical role in the demarcation of state boundaries (Figueiredo, 2007). In most cases, these boundaries cut across different nations, coercing them to come together and merge their institutions to form new nation-states. The same thing may be said of Sierra Leone, Somalia and dozens of other states that over the past decade have been regarded as failed or failing (Tedesco, 2007). The boundaries of these states were drawn by imperial and colonial powers. On this basis, the states made some neat maps and were given legal recognition by the United Nations. However, such nations did not possess the attributes of the conventional robust states; they existence was based purely on formal, legal recognition.

Since their inception, such nations have never quite been exercising anything that may be considered a monopoly on violence. Moreover, to a large extent, their borders have been unmanageable, porous, and the government authority barely extends beyond the countries’ capital cities and its few urban centers. Through lack of resources, incapacity, and massive corruption, it is virtually impossible for the most basic services such as schools, police, and courts to be provided to the citizens. In this regard, most of the people within the borders of these countries are left to themselves to deal with the problems arising from the lack of these services.

The case of the Latin American region

            Latin America has a past of numerous repressive military regimes and failed states. Prior to the 1970s, dictators and military juntas ruled most of Latin American countries. However, between the late 1970s and early 1990s, this region appeared to be headed for transition to democracy and prosperity of states. The bad thing, though, is that did not quite happen (Brooks, 2005). At the turn of the 21st century, many Latin American countries were facing the problem of military dictatorships (Brooks, 2005). A case in point is the autocratic presidents of Peru and the Venezuela.

            Analysis of most states in Latin America in the late 1990s and early 2000s projects a grim picture as far as state prosperity and success is concerned. In Colombia guerillas have penetrated nearly half of the territory (McLeana, 2002). In Brazil, severe economic problems forced culminated in the government’s decision to devalue the currency in 1999 (Acemoglu, 2012). This decision has triggered disagreements with Argentina, threatening the trade pact that has successfully been bringing together most of Latin America (Acemoglu, 2012).

            Even at the times when military regimes have appeared to be facing extinction, Latin America has suffered under the force of boom-and-bust cycles as far as national economies are concerned. During the early 1990s, there was hope in the region because of social growth, sustained economic growth, and decency in governance structures. Moreover, elected civilian leaders were replacing military dictators. Between 1975 and 1990, 15 countries in the region had done away with dictatorial regimes and were in the process of electing democratic leaders (, 2009). In most of these countries, such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Bolivia, there was no prior experience as far as democracy is concerned (Aguirre, 2006).

However, by the turn of the century, these expectations remained largely unfulfilled, as demonstrated by the problems encountered in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina (Durán, 2008). An assessment of other Latin American countries presents an equally grim picture. Many of these countries, including the Ecuador, Venezuela, and Paraguay appear to have lost ground as far as political and economic stability is concerned. Income disparities are at their highest levels. Few of the democratic governments in the regions are being properly governed. For the majority of the Latin American population, access to healthcare, education, and security is minimal. The quality of life is poor and every city is becoming increasingly violent and dangerous. These problems are compounded by the evidently weak democratic institutions, namely the legislatures, political parties, judicial systems, and the presidency.

Ecuador and Colombia may be categorized as examples of failed states in this region. Economic failure has taken hold of Ecuador. With economic failure, the Ecuadorian government has lost the support and authority it requires to successfully implement policies. The government continues to be crippled by the slowing-down of the economy. For this reason, citizens are losing confidence in the country’s institutions and democratic leaders.

Colombia also has the characteristics of a failed state. In this country, the major cause of failure is massive political and criminal violence rather than economic degeneration. Colombia has the biggest problem in terms of violence, crime, and lack of security for citizens. Internal warfare is a perennial problem, given that thousands of guerillas continue to roam freely across the country.

Options available to Latin American failed states: The role of globalization

As Latin American countries continue to address problems that make them failed states, stakeholders in different realms are concerned about the various options that are available as far as improving efficiency in governance is concerned. Even as these options are being explored, there is no doubt that failed countries such as Ecuador and Colombia have to adapt to globalization. Although globalization has brought about numerous economic opportunities, it also presents a myriad of challenges, particularly in terms of the way economic and cultural integration is managed (Eakin, 2006; Putzel, 2005).

In light of these challenges, the best options for these states, no doubt, are at the policymaking level. According to Fishlow (1989), the best option is to explore the reasons why Latin American countries have recorded poor economic performance in sharp contrast to Asian countries, which have recorded astounding success during the same period. The main reasons in Fishlow’s view include an extremely adverse international economy that continued to discriminate against all large debtors, domestic distortions caused by excess external debt, as well as political incapacity to fast-track the implementation of consistent and coherent adjustment policies.

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In summary, Latin American countries face serious economic and political challenges that have greatly contributed to state failure. These countries have weak governments and institutions. Moreover, their economies continue to perform poorly. In fact, it is the poor economic performance that brings about the incapacity by the governments to deliver the basic services to the citizens. As a result citizens lose confidence in the government and its institutions.

It is imperative that failed states such as Ecuador and Colombia do away with extractive political and economic institutions and replace them with inclusive institutions. Moreover, the Asian countries that recorded tremendous economic success during the 1980s provide an excellent example for Latin American countries to follow in adapting to globalization in order to start prospering even in an adverse international economic environment.


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