I am a political scientist interested in understanding how groups of individuals at all levels—local, national, global—reach agreements to advance their common wellbeing, or fail to do so. This includes the web of rules, formal and informal, that communities devise, and that we call institutions. But it also encompasses shared views and understandings that become entrenched in those communities, what we call norms or, more generally, culture. And it also involves policies, how societies devise and implement them, and to what effect. I want, in other words, to understand good governance, which I see as the set of practices and beliefs that can help advance wellbeing in all its dimensions or, in other words, allows the maximum fulfillment of individual capabilities and aspirations. Which also means I am concerned with political representation: how societies build governing mechanisms that enjoy legitimacy but also function for the public good.
My start in the academy came late, after fifteen years in the private sector. This was in Costa Rica, the country where I was born, at the time of the Latin American debt crisis, in the 1980s. The crisis generated considerable economic and political distress, and initiated a series of structural reforms, first to create stability, and later to transform key institutions. I became active in trade organizations, including the country’s peak business association, where I joined task forces convened to work on these reforms, negotiating with labor organizations and state representatives to craft new legislation. This allowed me to witness, first hand, the modernization of the country’s financial sector, during a period when key laws were adopted, including the opening of the state’s banking monopoly to the private sector, the adoption of prudential international regulatory and oversight banking norms, and the creation of a legal framework for the public offering and trading of financial instruments. I also participated in the process that transformed the country’s pensions into a multi-pillar system with the introduction of private individual retirement accounts complementing public pensions.
This proximity to the public policy making process sparked my interest in institutional change and good governance. I became involved with a local “think tank” called Centro de Investigación y Adiestramiento Político Administrativo (CIAPA) which was concerned with effective public administration. The organization was founded in 1974 under the auspices of Tulane University and it eventually supported me to seek a graduate degree there. Having achieved this, the organization tasked me with redefining its relationship to the University, which had waxed and waned through the years. The result was an agreement that brought CIAPA’s financial endowment and research mission to Tulane through the creation of the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR) within the Stone Center. In exchange for this investment Tulane agreed to provide a home for the center and manage CIAPA’s campus in Costa Rica. I became its founding Executive Director in 2009.
Since then my research has focused on different dimensions of governance in Costa Rica, including legislative efficiency, the continuation of institutional reforms in the aftermath of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the transformation of the energy sector. I have served as Costa Rica country expert for the Bertelesmann Foundation and have collaborated with the Programa Estado de la Nación in Costa Rica. Beyond Costa Rica, I have explored the relationship between democratic representation and state effectiveness, and through ongoing research projects underwritten by CIPR, I am currently pursuing research focused on the challenges of poverty and inequality, and the policy impacts of social movements in the extractive sector.
These research interests inform my teaching, although most recently I have taken a global, as well as regional, perspective. The courses I am currently teaching include Global Environmental Politics, Poverty and Development, and The Legacies of Violence in Central America.