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The State on the Streets: police and politics in Argentina and Brazil

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A new book by Dr Mercedes Hinton| of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) explores the porous boundary between legality and illegality in Latin America's pursuit of public order.

The State on the Streets, published by Lynne Rienner Publishers on 1 February 2006, focuses on the interplay of police, democracy, state and civil society in Argentina and Brazil, two of Latin America's largest and most powerful countries.

A central theme of the book is the view that reliable, accountable, and universalistic police forces are crucial to the legitimacy of the democratic state and respect for the rule of law. Yet, Mercedes Hinton's research found that:

  • In the aftermath of the transition to democracy, when an unprecedented increase in crime and public insecurity took place in Argentina and Brazil, governments provided weak responses to the public clamour for reform of the police
  • Civilian governments continue to manipulate the police for political and personal gain more than two decades after the demise of military rule
  • Lack of accountability and corruption remain troublesome features of government in general even as transparency is trumpeted
  • Electoral campaigns are waged year-round, corroding the political time for the vital consultation, consensus, and coalition-building process needed to resolve complex political issues.

Dr Hinton, Nuffield Research Fellow at LSE, said: 'The issue of whether and how Latin American governments will respond to popular outcry against unprecedented levels of crime and corruption ranks among the principal political questions of this decade. Ultimately, however, with the globalisation of drug trafficking, human smuggling, and terrorism, these issues have acquired a scholarly, political, and economic importance far beyond regional boundaries.'

Drawing on Dr Hinton's rare access to a wide spectrum of actors in the two countries, including top police officials and street patrolmen, military officers and legislators, clergy and prostitutes, business owners and shantytown residents, the book presents a vivid account of the special challenges of policing and reform in this unstable region.

Dr Hinton's in-depth comparative analysis reveals surprising parallels in the reform patterns adopted in Argentina and Brazil in the past decade, supporting conclusions that carry disturbing implications for the prospects for democratic consolidation in Latin America as a whole.


For more information contact:

  • Dr Mercedes Hinton, email m.hinton@lse.ac.uk; tel, 1 914 330 3324 (USA)
  • For a review copy of the book contact, Sally Glover, marketing director, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Tel. 1 303 444 6684 (USA); fax: 1 303 444 0824 (USA), email sglover@rienner.com
  • To purchase a copy of the book, visit www.rienner.com 


The State on the Streets: police and politics in Argentina and Brazil by Dr Mercedes S Hinton will be published on 1 February 2006 by Lynne Rienner publishers.

235 Pages, ISBN: 1 58826-374-6 HC $49.95

Comments on the book

'This book is a breath of fresh air in the study of the politics of policing in the Americas.'
Paul Chevigny, New York University

'An up-to-date, vivid, and illuminating comparative analysis of the obstacles to police reform in South America. Dr Hinton has focused on one of the most critical (and little studied) obstacles to full democratisation in the region.'
Laurence Whitehead, Nuffield College, University of Oxford

27 January 2006