Political Careers, Corruption, and Impunity

Panama's Assembly, 1984–2009

Carlos Guevara Mann

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

In Political Careers, Corruption, and Impunity: Panama’s Assembly, 1984-2009, Carlos Guevara Mann systematically examines the behavior of the members of Panama’s Legislative Assembly between 1984 and 2009, an arena previously unexplored in studies of Panamanian politics. He challenges fundamental aspects of scholarly literature on democratic legislatures, with important consequences for understanding democratic politics in Latin America and other parts of the world. The current literature on legislatures assumes that legislators single-mindedly seek reelection or the advancement of their political careers, and that they pursue these goals through acceptable democratic means. Guevara Mann shows, however, that in Panama many legislators also pursue less laudable goals such as personal enrichment and freedom from prosecution, often reaching their goals through means—widespread clientelism, party switching, and electoral manipulation—that undermine the quality of democracy.

On one level, Political Careers, Corruption, and Impunity contrasts the political behavior of individual legislators; on another, it compares the actions of legislators under various regimes—military and constitutional. Lastly, it engages in cross-national comparisons that contrast the behavior of Panamanian legislators with actions of representatives elsewhere. Guevara Mann’s sophisticated analysis of the military period and the transition to democracy, with an emphasis on the history and functioning of legislative bodies, contains a wealth of new information about a neglected but intrinsically fascinating case.

Carlos Guevara Mann is assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“Carlos Guevara Mann’s Political Careers, Corruption, and Impunity: Panama’s Assembly, 1984-2009 is a significant contribution both substantively and theoretically. Beyond the importance of now having a study of Panamanian legislators and legislature, Guevara Mann’s book also contributes to theories of legislator behavior by underscoring other goals that legislators have and exploring how the tools often used by legislators in other societies are differently used in the Panamanian context. Well-structured and extraordinarily well-written, with an impressive research scope, his book provides a preliminary step in theory building that will be very useful to other scholars.” — Peter M. Siavelis, Wake Forest University

“Carlos Guevara Mann’s examination of a legislature’s behavior provides a novel approach to the study of Latin American politics. Indeed there are very few investigations of Latin American legislatures, and generally these are broad, regional studies. While based in political science, Political Careers, Corruption, and Impunity: Panama’s Assembly, 1984–2009 will prove interesting to a wider audience. The book will appeal to historians in particular because it offers a sophisticated look at the military period and the transition to democracy.” — Peter Szok, Texas Christian University

“Political Careers, Corruption, and Impunity is a book with profound theoretical implications. Students of political institutions have emphasized the role of policy preferences and career objectives as the main forces driving the behavior of legislators. Guevara Mann’s study of Panama documents that legislators have additional goals—such as maximizing rents and buying insurance against prosecution—that influence their choices. Theories of legislative behavior must incorporate these crucial goals of policymakers to our standard repertoire of motivations.” — Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, University of Pittsburgh

“Carlos Guevara Mann’s new book provides the most detailed view available of domestic politics in Panama during the last quarter century, focusing on the legislative assembly. It is an important exploration into how graft, election fraud, legal immunity, and clientelism undermine democracy in an otherwise liberal regime. This book not only delivers the goods in terms of detailed analysis of questionable practices (with abundant tables), but it also explains why bad political behavior matters in theory. An amazingly authoritative and well-argued study.” — Michael Conniff, San José State University


“Mann demonstrates convincingly how informally institutionalized corruption, impunity, and clientelism impact the behavior of Panama’s representatives significantly. These additional goals bring into question the quality of democratic representation and the prospects for further democratization in Panama.” — Choice