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Latin America Initiative Seed Grant Recipients

Latin America Initiative Seed Grant Recipients

The Latin America Initiative (2016-2017) offered seed grants to Georgetown faculty to facilitate collaborative research relating to the initiative themes: governance and the rule of law, economic growth and innovation, and social and cultural inclusion. Grants of up to $10,000 were awarded to support meetings, workshops, and research assistance.

List of seed grant recipients awarded fall 2017

Title: "Llama Raising and Economic Development in the Andes"
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Erick D. Langer and Kevin Healy

One of the most exciting new ideas for economic development is to take traditional activities and transform them in ones that provide economic growth for previously marginalized rural populations and thus help integrate them into the local, regional, and even global economies. This has begun to happen recently in one of the most neglected parts of South America, the highlands of Tarija, Bolivia, where llama raising is helping to transform local communities through innovative breeding of llamas for meat consumption at gourmet restaurants and for their highly prized wool. The wool, which is woven for the creation of high-end fashion products, is beginning to create new opportunities for community members. The llamas provide for greater social inclusion, as community members are to participate with little initial capital. The final report from the project will serve as a means to apply for large-scale funding of a minimum of a year to research the llama revitalization project in Tarija and see how it may be duplicated in other regions of the Andes.

Title: "Conference: Corruption and Institutional Reform in the Americas"
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Álvaro Santos

High-profile corruption scandals have become a common feature in Latin America in the last few years. Often, the institutions in charge of addressing corruption cases have not worked well, and in some cases, they have themselves been corrupted to condone or gloss over bribery and kleptocracy. Corruption has become one of the top issues of concern for citizens of Latin America, according to Latinobarometro’s 2016 survey. This project will organize a conference at Georgetown Law Center to explore what regulatory models and institutional innovations in the Americas have worked to address corruption, whether to prosecute it or to diminish the incentives ex ante. The conference will bring together important public figures in successful fights against corruption, such as judges and prosecutors, along with civil society activists, journalists, business people and scholars, to think together about successful policy interventions anywhere in the American hemisphere. A subsequent report will provide a diagnosis of the problem as well as some possible policy interventions to address it.

Title: "Music for U.S.-Cuban Relations"
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Anthony Del Donna, Angel Gil-Ordóñez, Benjamin Harbert
Collaborators: Ever Chávez, Ulises Hernández Morgadanes

This project integrates music education and international affairs through a classical musician exchange program between Georgetown and the Lyceum Mozartiano de la Habana. It will utilize a cultural immersion approach to highlight shared history, traditions, and values between the United States and Cuba, including tours of Washington, D.C., and tours of Havana, Cuba, and a Cuban Studies Seminar. The Music Program of the Department of Performing Arts and the Center for Latin American Studies will collaborate to facilitate intercultural research and collaboration workshops and a seminar on U.S.-Cuban cultural relations, featuring scholars in Cuban studies. Georgetown will send 12 student musicians and two faculty to Havana and host 10 Cuban student musicians here in Washington, D.C. Each visit will culminate in a classical musical concert open to the general public without admission cost. 

List of seed grant recipients awarded spring 2017

Title: “Georgetown University Politics and Rule of Law in the Americas (GU-PRoLA) Database”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Diana Kapiszewski

Institutions form the infrastructure of governance. They guide the direction and pace of political change and undergird and facilitate economic development. Yet despite their undeniable importance, there is no easily accessible source for systematic, aggregated information about the functioning, development, and durability of the political-legal infrastructure of the countries of the Americas. This project will continue building the Georgetown University Politics and Rule of Law in the Americas (GU-PRoLA), a database that will store and disseminate current and historical information on politics and the rule of law in 22 countries in the western hemisphere, for use by
policymakers, civil society, and scholars of the Americas. As a signature initiative of the Center for Latin American Studies, the GU-PRoLA has significant potential to become the authoritative, internationally recognized resource of record for data on governance in the Americas.

Title: “Bus Rapid Transit and Rights to the Latin American City”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Bryan McCann and Robin King
Collaborators: Juan Miguel Velásquez, Daniela Facchini, Arturo Ardila

Over the last generation, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has become the public transportation solution of choice in Latin American urban planning and will remain so for at least the next generation. Offering the promise of low-cost urban mobility to passengers ranging from the working poor to the emerging middle class, BRT has often seemed like the ideal mode of transportation to respond to shifts toward democratization, neoliberalism, and inclusion in Latin America. Given its prominence, it is vitally important to investigate why BRT succeeds in some cases and fails in others, and why even successful cases have proven vulnerable. Researchers will craft papers that explore the relationship between BRT and rights to the Latin American city. These authors will gather at a seminar/workshop held at Georgetown University in October of 2017 and conduct field research in Curitiba and Goiânia, Brazil; Bogotá, Colombia; and La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia.

Title: “The Future of NAFTA and North American Economic Integration Participants”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Álvaro Santos

It has not been a good year for global trade. Anti-globalization malaise has been simmering for quite some time but it has recently gained political momentum in the industrialized world through the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, the United States’ withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Trump administration’s suggested renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This moment offers an opportunity to rethink the international agreements and institutional mechanisms currently in place, as well as the role the state ought to play in the market. This conference on NAFTA will discuss its benefits for the countries involved, the critical issues that ought to be part of a potential renegotiation, and its variety of future scenarios. The conference is part of a broader collaborative research project called “Towards Sustainable and Equitable Globalization.”

Title: “Capitalism in Mexico, Past and Present: A Search for New Understandings a Workshop”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: John Tutino and Jenny Guardado

Mexico’s economy, its links to the United States, and both countries’ places in the world occupy endless discussions in the news about topics such as wealth and poverty, concentration and distribution, legality and illegality, national welfare and global integration, and the challenges of migration and transnational communities. This workshop aims to tackle the larger questions: How did Mexico come to face its contemporary challenges? Are there policies that might begin to address them? The event will bring together leading practitioners of the political economy of development, economic history, and the history of capitalism to engage in dialogue, to identify areas of compromise and debate, and to apply analytical theories to public discussions and policy debates.

Title: “Colloquium on the Environment in Brazilian Culture”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Patricia Viera and Maria Esther Maciel

Brazil faces many ecological issues, including the challenge of balancing economic growth and environmental protection; the correlation between poverty and environmental degradation; the centrality of the environment for economic, social and cultural inclusion; and the place of the natural world in Brazilian cultural products. This inclusion of the natural world in Brazilian cultural products focuses not just on the socio-political and economic impact of environmental issues, but also the production of arts such as cinema and literature. A one-day colloquium on the environment in Brazilian culture will bring together leading scholars working on environmental topics in Brazilian culture, with the goal of publishing of a book on the topic.

List of seed grant recipients awarded fall 2016

Title: "Governance and Development in Latin America - The Long-Run View”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Jenny Guardado
Collaborators: Luz Marina Arias, Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

The overall purpose of this project is to investigate the complex relationship between historical events and institutions and how they continue to impact contemporary governance and economic outcomes across Latin American countries. In the first iteration, the focus will be on the Mexican case and the colonial legacies influencing current property right arrangements, trade patterns, fiscal centralization, and ethnic segregation in the country, among others. The seed grant will help generate three products: 1. launch a working paper series on the topic, hosted online by LAI and CLAS; 2. convene a workshop in which a selected group of papers are discussed and commented (which will comprise the first batch of working papers in the repository); and 3. develop grant proposals for continued funding of the project. The workshop and working paper series aims to bring together scholars from political science, economics and history to enrich our understanding of the channels through which the “long-arm” of past historical events continues to influence contemporary Latin American politics and economics. In particular, the working paper series will showcase the latest developments across disciplines to examine the long-term effects of historic institutions, culture, knowledge and technology on current development. The papers presented at the workshop --- and which will become part of the working paper series --- will cover a variety of topics including governance, conflict, democracy, human and social capital, and economic development.

Title: “Georgetown University Political Institutions and Law in the Americas (PILA) Database”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Diana Kapiszewski, Alvaro Santos

This proposal requests follow-on seed grant funding from the Latin America Initiative (LAI) to continue to build the Political Institutions and Law in the America, (PILA) database. PILA builds on the Political Database of the Americas (PDBA,, which at one time was a large-scale archive for information on Latin American political institutions that served as an important esource for scholars of and practitioners in the region. Support for the PDBA waned after 2010, however, the database stopped being updated, and it gradually lost relevance for researchers of and those active in Western hemispheric affairs. PILA represents a fundamental re-conceptualizing, restructuring, and updating of the PDBA. As envisioned, PILA will store and disseminate accurate historical and contemporary data about political and legal institutions in 22 countries of the Western hemisphere. A critical innovation is PILA’s inclusion of information on law and legal institutions. As democracy has stabilized in many countries of the Americas, entrenching the rule of law has emerged as a central challenge. It is thus crucial that scholars and practitioners have up-to-date information about the region’s constitutions, codes, laws, and courts. Comprehensive, systematic, and user-friendly, PILA has the potential to become an authoritative, internationally recognized clearinghouse for institutional data for the Americas, a signature project of the Center for Latin American Studies, and a model that could be adopted by other regional centers in Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

List of seed grant recipients awarded spring 2016

Title: “Making Labor Law Work: Reforming Legal Codes to Foster Growth and Inclusion in Latin America”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Matthew Carnes, S.J. and Diana Kapiszewski
Collaborators: Rodrigo Zarazaga, Lucas Ronconi, Santiago Lopez Cariboni

Latin American labor laws are considered problematic by nearly every segment of the population in the region. Businesses see them as overly rigid; skilled workers and unionized laborers complain that the laws’ provisions are frequently evaded; and unskilled workers, lacking a path that would facilitate their employment according to the laws, often end up in the informal sector. This project aims to understand the dynamics and distortions—and adaptive strategies—that these labor laws create in the region, as well as formulate proposals for addressing them. It consists of two pilot initiatives that will focus on three countries: Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay. The first initiative focuses on micro-level attitudes and behaviors vis-à-vis labor law by both employers and workers. The second will entail identifying, gathering, and systematically documenting national-level variation in these labor laws. Taken together, these two initiatives will shed new light on the active role played by workers and businesses in the shaping Latin American labor laws and behavior in the labor market.

Title: “Political Database of the Americas”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Matthew Carnes, S.J. and Diana Kapiszewsk

Political institutions form the infrastructure of democracy. “Getting the institutions right” has become a mantra among scholars of comparative politics, understood to be a key to effective governance, political stability, and economic growth and innovation. Yet identifying, introducing, and entrenching appropriate political institutions is an enormous challenge. Correspondingly, scholars’ ability to engage in comparative analysis of the “rules of the political game” that are in place in diverse polities is of immense normative concern and practical utility. This project will begin to rebuild a critical resource that once facilitated just this type of scholarly inquiry: the Political Database of the Americas (PDBA). The PDBA is a large-scale multi-lingual data archive that gathers, systemizes, and disseminates Latin American legislation and other legal texts. As a signature project of the Center for Latin American Studies and the Latin America Initiative, the PDBA would have the potential to be the internationally recognized, authoritative clearinghouse for information on political institutions in the Americas.

Title: “Behavioral Interventions to Enhance Labor Inclusion of Low-Income Youth in Mexico”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsor: Adriana Kugler
Collaborators: Carlos Chiapa, Ingrid Rojas, Rogelio Grados, José Ernesto López, Gerardo de la Torre

There is strong evidence that if individuals start on a good footing by making a strong entrance into the labor market after graduating from high school, they can enter into a virtuous circle and continue to get good jobs for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, if individuals have a hard time getting a first job or their first job is low-paying, they may continue to get bad jobs and enter into a vicious circle. Thus, labor inclusion is an important component of social inclusion and economic mobility, including in Mexico, where this project will take place. Researchers will conduct a pilot project to help disadvantaged youth in Mexico enter the labor market after graduating from high school. The project will help facilitate labor market inclusion for Mexicans early on in their lives, when it matters most.

Title: “Brazil’s Rio Doce Disaster: the History and Consequences of a Man-made Environmental Disaster”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Bryan McCann, John McNeill, and Camille Gaskin-Reyes
Collaborators: Douglas McRae, Matt Johnson, Décio Semensatto, Janes Jorge, Judy Bieber

On November 5, 2015, the containment dam at an iron-mining operation in the hills outside Mariana, Brazil, gave way, releasing 60 million cubic meters of toxic sludge. The sludge flowed slowly downstream to the Rio Doce, one of Brazil’s major rivers and reached the Atlantic Ocean 17 days later. Along the way, it effectively “killed” the Rio Doce, smothering riverine life. This project will fund two Georgetown University graduate students, who will undertake targeted travel within southeastern Brazil in order to gather data and who will begin the work of creating an online database, collecting visual, statistical, and qualitative sources on the disaster. This research assistance will play a key role in the larger project, which brings together a team of Brazilian and U.S.-based scholars to investigate the historical, environmental, political, and economic roots and consequences of the disaster. The project will lead toward an edited volume and an online database of evidence, data from comparative cases and analysis.

Title: “Economic Orders and Democratic Governance in Latin America: Formal, Informal, and Criminal Economies in Mexico and Colombia”
Georgetown Faculty Sponsors: Álvaro Santos and John Bailey
Collaborators: Juan Carlos Garzón

The purpose of this new project is to investigate the complex relationships between organized crime and economic informality—two issues that are of great relevance to Latin America. Organized crime refers to illegal acts (for example, smuggling or extortion) that are carried out by varieties of types of organizations. Criminal organizations present problems to varying degrees throughout Latin America, and the threats have been especially acute in recent decades in Mexico and Colombia, which will be the sites of our case studies. Informality—defined as economic activities that are untaxed and that operate to some degree outside of legal regulation—also plays a vital role throughout Latin America; informal markets provide desired goods and services at prices lower than formal markets. This project will survey the state of the knowledge on the topic and will also provide a policy analysis that compares government and stakeholders’ responses in Mexico and Colombia to the challenges of informality and criminality. Long term the project aims to conduct an extensive analysis of the dynamics of democratic governance and state-making—and of informality and criminal organizations’ modus operandi—in Mexico and Colombia.