LAC Main Seminar Series: The Puzzle of Panamanian Exceptionalism

Convener: David Doyle, University of Oxford

Speaker: James Loxton, University of Sydney

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Abstract: In the three decades since the U.S. invaded and overthrew the dictatorship of General Manuel Noriega, Panama has undergone a remarkable transformation. It has remained a stable democracy in an age of democratic backsliding, and its economy has grown faster than that of any other country in Latin America. It is today one of the richest countries in the region and is considered by the UN to be a case of “very high” human development. These accomplishments have not only received little outside attention, but have also occurred in ways that defy conventional wisdom about democratisation and economic development in startling ways. This talk examines Panama’s rise and highlights four especially puzzling features: 1) it is a rare case of democratisation by military invasion; 2) it is home to an extremely unlikely case of authoritarian successor party regeneration; 3) it is a standout instance of effective resource management by a state-owned enterprise; and 4) it has managed to achieve rapid economic development despite very high levels of corruption.



Bio: James Loxton is a Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Sydney. His research examines authoritarian regimes, democratisation, and political parties, with a focus on Latin America. He is the author of the award-winning Conservative Party-Building in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2021), and the co-editor of Life after Dictatorship: Authoritarian Successor Parties Worldwide (Cambridge University Press, 2018) and Challenges of Party-Building in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2016). He holds a PhD in Government from Harvard University.