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The eyes of the world have been focusing more on Latin America recently, with such percolating issues as the rising tensions over the Falkland Islands, and the approaching presidential election in Venezuela.
As a specialist in public opinion and political behavior in Latin America, Julio Carrión, professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware, frequently travels to Central and South America to present his research and often is consulted by national media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and the Miami Herald, among others.
Last month, however, Carrión flew east across the Atlantic to deliver a special short course on public opinion in Latin America for master's and doctoral students at the University of Salamanca, the oldest university in Spain.
Carrión's course was selected in a public competition in which professors from around the world were invited to submit proposals to the University of Salamanca to offer short-term courses relevant to the education of students interested in Latin America.
Carrión covered existing theories and the state of the art in the study of public opinion in Latin America, drawing on his own research and books, as well as those of other authors.
"There is a growing realization that the analysis and understanding of public opinion will shed significant light on some of the key political developments in the region, such as the emergence of populism," Carrión said, referring to a leader's approach to gaining political power by appealing to the masses through an "us" (ordinary people) versus "them" (the elite) discourse.
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Populism, warlordism and the temptation of military dictatorship are problems that currently weigh on Latin America. Yet the analysis of public opinion, broadly considered, has not yet become a key topic of research for those who study democracy, according to Carrión.
"While each country in Latin America faces its own troubles and challenges, the region as a whole shares some common preoccupations, the most important of which seems to be the sensation that crime has gotten out of control," Carrión says. "This could fuel a mentality of 'everything goes' in combating it, increasing public support for authoritarian practices."
While Carrión's visit was arranged before the creation of the new Center for Global and Area Studies, which he directs, in UD's College of Arts and Sciences, the experience represents the kind of research and academic outreach the center seeks to foster among faculty working in global and international issues.
Carrión established important contacts with faculty and administrators at the University of Salamanca and may return to teach next year. He and his colleagues also plan to meet in Quito, Ecuador, this June, during the VI Congress of the Latin American Association of Political Science, to discuss future collaboration.
To see an interview with Carrión (in Spanish) by the University of Salamanca, visit this website. Carrión also was interviewed by Punto Radio, a radio station in Salamanca.