Interest groups and lobbying in Latin America: theoretical and practical considerations

Published date01 November 2014
Date01 November 2014
Special Issue Paper
Interest groups and lobbying in Latin
America: theoretical and practical
Clive S. Thomas
*and Kristina Klimovich
Foley Institute, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA
The New School, New York City, USA
The major purpose of this Special Issue is to provide the rst comprehensive treatment of interest groups in
Latin America. This rst article provides background to this end by dening key terms and concepts; explaining
the ubiquity of power groups, interests and interest groups in politics and government, and the fundamental elements
of an interest group system, relating all this to past characteristics of Latin Americas politics. Additionally, the article
identies the reasons for the dearth of studies of interest groups in the region and makes the case for the value of such
studies. Drawing on this background, the article also sets out a heuristic for approaching the contributions to this
volume and for developing a theoretical framework for the analysis of Latin American interest group systems.
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
An enlightening approach for understanding how
any political system works and how power is
distributed within it is to study the activities of its
political interests and interests groups. Initially, we
can dene an interest group as a collection of individ-
uals,organizations,or a public or private institution that
works to inuence public policy in its favor.Studying
the role of interest groups certainly provides many
insights into Latin American politics. In fact, in
his introductory remarks to this volume, former
Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, comments on their
crucial role in the past and their contemporary and
future importance. Yet despite their central inuence
in shaping political power relationships, interest
groups have been virtually ignored by scholars and
political observers analyzing Latin American politics,
government, and public policy-making.
The lack of an interest group perspective is
not only unfortunate for academic reasons but for
practical ones too. In particular, from a practical
political perspective, the form and extent of the
role of interest groups offers major insights into the
key contemporary question in Latin American
politics: Will liberal democracy be maintained and
consolidated or will parts or all of Latin America
return to some form of authoritarianism? In short,
and as the subtitle to this volume asks, is this a
new era or more of the same for the region in terms
of the activity of interest groups and their role in
promoting democracy?
Accordingly, this specialissue of the journal makes
the case for thevaluethe importanceof an interest
group perspectivefor understanding Latin American
politics and argues the case for interest group analy-
sis, in conjunction with other perspectives such as
that of political parties, legislatures, and executives,
as a key approach for analyzing and understanding
Latin American politics and policy-making. By draw-
ing on the expertise and various perspectives of 16
*Correspondence to: Clive S. Thomas, Thomas S. Foley Institute
for Public Policy and Public Service, WashingtonState University,
Pullman, WA 991645136, USA.
Journal of Public Affairs
Volume 14 Number 3 pp 165182 (2014)
Published online 15 August 2013 in Wiley Online Library
( DOI: 10.1002/pa.1462
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
scholars andpractitioners from several LatinAmerica
countries, North America, Europe, Eastern Russia,
and New Zealand, the format and wide-range of
topics covered in this volume constitutes the rst
comprehensive and systematic treatment of interest
groups across the region. As such, this volume has
both an academic and a practical value. It offers
insights to scholars in political science and related
elds, including a theoretical framework for under-
standing and analyzing group activity in the region
and its countries. Plus, because of its straightforward
writing style and background information, the vol-
ume will be of value to political practitioners, elected
and appointed, as well as political observers and
commentatorsand those doing business in the region
or who simply have an interestin Latin America and
want to understand its political dynamics.
The rst section of this article explains key terms
and concepts and issues surrounding them. Then
we provide a brief overview of the elements of
interest group systems followed by initial insights
into how politics and government have affected
these systems in Latin America. The next two sec-
tions examine the reasons for the lack of focus on
group activity in Latin American politics and make
the case for using them as a tool of analysis. The last
four sections of the article provide information for
analyzing Latin American interest group systems.
This is done by outlining existing and related re-
search on the subject, providing a heuristic for
analyzing the articles in the volume, showing
how each article illustrates particular points regard-
ing group activity in the region, and nally by
explaining the link between this introductory article
and the concluding one for providing a framework
for analyzing Latin American interest groups.
A working denition of Latin America
There is a dispute among scholars as to what exactly
constitutes Latin America. Here, we use the standard
denition to include the 20 independent countries
that are heirs to the Latin and Iberian European
tradition (Spanish, Portuguese, and French). This
denition excludes the northern European heritages
of Britain and the Netherlands: countries and terri-
tories such as Belize (formerly British Honduras),
Jamaica, Trinidad, and Tobago, all with a British
heritage; and Surinam (formerly Dutch Guiana),
Aruba, and Saba, all with a Dutch heritage. Also,
those territories that have a Francophone heritage
but are not independent, s uch as French Guiana and
Guadeloupe (both overseas departments of France),
are excluded from our dening of Latin America.
Table 1 lists these twenty countries in alphabet-
ical order and by region. Virtually all the coun-
tries of the region are covered in some way in
this volume, with the exception of Cuba (as a
non-pluralist country).
The Latin American political context: working
denitions of key terms and concepts
Key terms and concepts
There is a perennial, often heated debate in various
subelds of political science as to the meaning of
terms and concepts. Terms ranging from power to
democracy to interest group, among many others,
are subject to varying denitions. So as a foundation
for exploring the role of interest groups in Latin
American politics, we need clarity and consistency
in our use of various terms and concepts. As a work-
ing solution, we provide two glossaries of terms.
Table 2 explains general concepts essential for
understanding the political environment in which
Latin American interest groups operate. Then, in the
next section, there is a glossary (Table 3) explaining
interest group terminology. Both tables can be
referred back to in readingthe various contributions.
Plus, some articles have their own explanations of
particular concepts and acronyms.
Table 1 The countries of Latin America: listed
alphabetically and by subregions
Alphabetical List Subregions
Argentina Mexico & Central
South America
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador Peru
El Salvador
The Caribbean
Dominican Republic
Source: developed by the authors.
166 C. S. Thomas and K. Klimovich
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Public Affairs 14, 165182 (2014)
DOI: 10.1002/pa

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