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Title page for ETD etd-07282010-214904

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Cruz, Jose Miguel
Author's Email Address jose.m.cruz@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-07282010-214904
Title Democratization Under Assault: Criminal Violence in Post-Transition Central America
Degree PhD
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Mitchell A. Seligson Committee Chair
Deborah Yashar Committee Member
Elizabeth Zechmeister Committee Member
Jonathan Hiskey Committee Member
  • violence
  • democratization
  • state
  • Central America
  • crime
  • gangs
Date of Defense 2010-07-16
Availability unrestricted
This research project aims to answer the question as to why some new democracies develop astronomically high levels of criminal violence, whereas in others, violence is far more limited. This inquiry is related to a more general question: does democratization itself provoke violence? In order to answer these questions, I have conducted a two-fold research project linking transitions to democracy and violent crime.

Firstly, I conducted a cross-country longitudinal analysis on the determinants of violence in Latin America using indicators of political regime as independent variables. Secondly, I conducted a qualitatively-oriented research design focused on the Central American countries, particularly on El Salvador and Nicaragua, as the former is considered the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere, while the latter is one of the less violent countries in Latin America.

The fundamental argument that emerges from this research project is that criminal violence in post-transitional societies is a function of the mode in which political transitions were carried out. Specifically, I found that where the transitions were able to eradicate the utilization of violence specialists as informal collaborators of the state, the likelihood of high levels of post-transition violence is lower than in countries where transitions did not separate violence specialists acting informally on behalf of the state. In other words, I argue that criminal violence in the post-transition setting is the result of the way in which security institutions were reconstructed during the period of regime change regarding the violent actors of the past. Therefore, I view the state and its formal and informal institutions as the key determinants of the level and nature of post-transition violence.

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