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The Puzzle of Panamanian Exceptionalism

James Loxton, University of Sydney; PLAS Visiting Research Scholar

February 15, 2023 · 12:00 pm1:20 pm · 216 Aaron Burr Hall

Program in Latin American Studies
A Panama supporter waves the national flag ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Belgium and Panama at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 18, 2018. Photo source: Foreign Policy | ODD ANDERSEN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In the three decades since the U.S. invasion that 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 democratization 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 democratization 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 achieved rapid economic development despite very high levels of corruption.


James Loxton is a Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Sydney. He is currently a Visiting Research Scholar in the Program in Latin American Studies at Princeton University. His research examines authoritarian regimes, democratization, and political parties. He is the award-winning author of Conservative Party-Building in Latin America (Oxford University Press, 2021) and the co-editor with Scott Mainwaring of Life after Dictatorship: Authoritarian Successor Parties Worldwide (Cambridge University Press, 2018). He holds a PhD in Government from Harvard University.


Jared Abbott, Ph.D., Harvard University; PLAS Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer

If you would like to receive a copy of James Loxton’s paper in advance of the discussion, please email damaris@princeton.edu by February 14.

Open to students, faculty, visiting scholars, staff and specially invited guests. A boxed lunch will be provided while supplies last.

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