Latin American Presidentialism in Comparative and Historical Perspective

Tom Ginsburg
Jose Antonio Cheibub and Zachary Elkins

This paper demonstrates that there is a distinctive style of presidentialism in Latin American constitutional design. While early constitutions in the region tended to follow the US model of presidency, subsequent constitutions evolved away from this model in favor of giving the president more authority in lawmaking. We demonstrate a substantial amount of convergence over time. This analysis has three important implications. First, it calls attention to geography as an important predictor of constitutional design. Second, our analysis emphasizes change rather than continuity and convergence over time. This approach contrasts with the recent emphasis in comparative law on ― legal origins as determinants of contemporary outcomes. Finally, while the legal-origins analysts emphasize the importance of French law in Latin America, we show that at a constitutional level (surely important for economic outcomes), the influence of Spain and the United States was also significant in the early years. But while the legal-origins school argues for long-range consequences of initial choices, we observe a gradual process of constitutional updating in which constitutions within the region grow more similar to each other, and a move away from the models from which they were initially drawn.