In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Exile in Latin America

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Recent Collective Works and Panoramic Studies
  • Defining the Exilic Condition
  • Psychological and Psychosocial Approaches
  • Presidential Exile and Democracy
  • Gender and Exile

Latin American Studies Political Exile in Latin America
Luis Roniger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0147


Since independence, political exile—as both expulsion and expatriation—has been a major mechanism of exclusion widely used and abused by Latin American states. Resulting from political persecution but stopping short of annihilating the opposition, exile represents a pattern of politics built upon exclusion. While rooted in colonial practices, its recurrent use after independence has contributed to reinforcing the exclusionary rules of political systems. In the 20th century, a major transformation occurred in the structure of exile, when it transformed from a selective mechanism mostly involving political, social, and cultural elites into a mass phenomenon, correlated with the democratization of politics and the opening of public spheres to sectarian political participation. In this latter stage, the international and transnational arenas also became increasingly prominent. The recurrent use of exile reflects ongoing challenges to the structure of power in exclusionary political systems and limited democracies. States have expelled their own citizens and residents while simultaneously providing sites of asylum for persecuted individuals of other lands. This Janus-face of states, which adopt selective and often disparate policies of displacement and asylum, constitutes a challenging domain of research into the relationships of state politics and civil society in the Americas. The contradictory nature of the policies of asylum and exclusion has prompted analyses both at the level of institutional strategies and in terms of the challenges that migratory processes pose to the reshaping of collective identities and competitiveness over access to resources. An equally fascinating and still largely uncharted area of research is that of the partial return of exiles. The many facets of exile have prompted multidisciplinary approaches to this phenomenon; there are studies that stress exile as a political and sociological phenomenon, while others tackle it from psychological, anthropological, and cultural perspectives of discussion.

General Overviews

Political exile, a major political practice in some of these societies and historical periods, is still an under-researched topic. While ubiquitous and fascinating, until recently—with only minor exceptions (Caldwell 1943, Johnson 1951, Tabori 1972)—it was conceived as somewhat marginal for the development of these societies and studied in the framework of traditional concepts and concerns in history, law, and the social sciences, as in Luna 1962. More recently, theoretical developments have been prompted in connection with new concepts and paradigms. Thus, in the 1980s and 1990s scientists working in comparative politics and political theory—respectively, Shain 1989 and Shklar 1998—made major contributions from the perspective of shaken state loyalties and reconstructed commitments; and in the 1990s and 2000s we find attempts, such as Safran 1991 and Sheffer 2003, at analytical systematization closely connected with transnationalism and diaspora studies, addressing Latin America partially or approaching it comprehensively. The latter works will be singled out later on (see Recent Collective Works and Panoramic Studies).

  • Caldwell, Robert G. “Exile as an Institution.” Political Science Quarterly 58.2 (1943): 239–262.

    DOI: 10.2307/2144917

    Caldwell underscores the longstanding importance of exile as a Latin American political institution, tracing the origins of the institutionalization of exile both to classical philosophers who advocated banishment and to preexisting Spanish legal codes that institutionalized exclusion. Classical antiquity and philosophy, thus, sought to legitimize what was already in existence. Colonization further institutionalized exile, often incorporated into the penal codes of states.

  • Johnson, John J. “Foreign Factors in Dictatorship in Latin America.” Pacific Historical Review 20.2 (1951): 127–141.

    DOI: 10.2307/3634854

    This study analyzes the genesis of caudillo politics in Hispanic America and sees asylum and exile as stemming from the rigid caste system and the will to reach “a cooling of tempers,” while representing clemency and leniency. Caudillos used the real or imaginary threat of the opposition across the border to justify a concentration of powers and militarization. It has been partially reprinted in Hugh M. Hamill, ed. Caudillos: Dictators in Latin America (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992, pp. 195–202).

  • Luna, David Alejandro. El asilo político. San Salvador, El Salvador: Editorial Universitaria, 1962.

    This is a historical-juridical analysis of the figure of political asylum, anchored in natural rights and their positive elaboration; tracing its historical bases to antiquity and its development as territorial asylum and later on as diplomatic asylum.

  • Safran, William. “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return.” Diasporas 1.1 (1991): 83–99.

    DOI: 10.1353/dsp.1991.0004

    Safran stresses the necessary qualifications for a dispersed network of minorities to be a diaspora. According to Safran, exile/expatriation and the subsequent collective consciousness orientated to a real or mythical place of origin are basic traits, leading to his determination that Hispanic or Latino communities in the United States, particularly the Mexicans, hardly qualify, while the Cubans are part of a diaspora.

  • Shain, Yossi. The Frontier of Loyalty: Political Exiles in the Age of the Nation-States. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989.

    This book suggests that exiles move the frontier of loyalty abroad upon interacting with their countrymen in the diaspora and impacting home and host societies. Shain examines exiles’ attempts to mobilize their compatriots abroad; their relations with the internal opposition to the home regime; the interaction between political exiles and the international community; and the home regime’s responses to the challenges that exiles represent.

  • Sheffer, Gabriel. Diaspora Politics: At Home and Abroad. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499432

    Sheffer argues that diaspora dates from antiquity, further outlining how diasporas attempt to assimilate into their host countries while simultaneously maintaining close ties with the homeland. Discussing a wide variety of ethno-national diasporas, from Mexicans in the United States to the Portuguese in France, the author presents their commonalities, including formation processes and their often-tense relationships with their home and host countries.

  • Shklar, Judith. “Obligation, Loyalty and Exile: The Bonds of Exile.” In Political Thought and Political Thinkers. Edited by Judith Shklar and Stanley Hoffman, 38–72. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    Shklar analyzes exile in terms of the severed political obligations of governments towards citizens, and the parallel ties of loyalty, fidelity, and allegiance that exiles may carry out abroad. These posthumous papers suggest a research program on the public implications of exile, indicating that its singularity derives from the existential reflexivity and shattered political obligations of those expelled by their governments.

  • Tabori, Paul. The Anatomy of Exile: A Semantic and Historical Study. London: Harrap, 1972.

    This is an encyclopedic historical and semantic study of the forms and conceptions of exile by a Hungarian émigré and intellectual, who wrote it not for the expert or the academic, but rather to bring public attention to the deep historical and cultural breadth of the phenomenon and its multiple manifestations that make any attempt at clear-cut identification so difficult.

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