UTM professor generated key insights on Latin American democracies

Ana Maria Bejarano
Friday, March 31, 2017 - 9:27am
Sharon Aschaiek

Professor Ana Maria Bejarano, an accomplished scholar of Latin American politics at the University of Toronto Mississauga who was distinguished for her impactful research, hands-on teaching style and warm personality, died of cancer on March 28 at age 55.

Few researchers were as committed to investigating the processes of democratization and constitutionalization in Latin America as Bejarano. The Bogotá, Colombia native studied the challenges with strengthening democracy in the Andes, a region she came to care about through her involvement with the University of Los Andes, where she completed her BA in political science and where she later taught the subject. Her deep desire to advance public policy debate regarding democracy in the Andes was clear to her research collaborators and to her colleagues within UTM’s Department of Political Science.

“She had high standards as an academic and she was very passionate about her work in that region,” says friend and fellow UTM political science professor Lee Ann Fujii. “She was a kindred spirit intellectually and teaching-wise.”

Bejarano was a highly educated academic who earned an MA, MPhil and PhD – in the last case as a Fulbright Scholar – at Columbia University in New York City. She later took part in a one-year visiting fellowship at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She then landed at Princeton University where, for two years, she served as a visiting fellow in the Program in Latin American Studies, and as a lecturer, first in the Politics department, and then in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

After becoming an assistant professor at UTM in 2003, Bejarano taught multiple courses on Latin American politics and the evolution of democracy in the region. She was known as a dedicated teacher who enjoyed engaging with and challenging her students, and who went out of her way to support them in conducting effective, ethical research. In 2011, she served for a year as acting director of U of T’s Latin American Studies program. In 2007, she was honoured with the Dean’s Special Merit Award from UTM.

Bejarano wrote the 2011 book Precarious Democracies: Understanding Regime Stability and Change in Colombia and Venezuela, a comparative historical analysis of how democracy and political institutions evolved in Colombia and Venezuela during the second half of the 20th century. As well, she co-edited the 2006 essay collection The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes, which examined the growing disaffection with democracy in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Bejarano also authored many journal articles, book chapters, book reviews and conference papers.

For Bejarano, researching democracy in Latin America wasn’t just a professional pursuit, but a personal one. Raised in Colombia at a time when drug-related violence was high – and when coups, protests, guerilla movements and political strongmen were common across the subcontinent – she was keen to ensure the region didn’t slide back into authoritarian rule. To fulfil that goal, she invested much of her energy, time and expertise into initiatives to monitor the quality of democracy in the Andes, and to advance evidence-based strategies for supporting democratic processes and institutions.