Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Mary Clark

Associate Professor - Political Science

Contact Info

Department Affiliation
Political Science


I chose my dissertation topic during the “lost decade” of the 1980s when the debt crisis had given the international financial institutions extraordinary leverage over many Latin American countries. They teamed up with domestic elites to force changes in economic policy. One subsequent change was to attempt to earn more hard currency by promoting new export products. I studied the process of formulating, adopting, and implementing export promotion policies in Costa Rica, whose very livelihood was at stake after the Central American Common Market fell apart. The dissertation produced four articles and then expanded into a book, Gradual Economic Reform in Latin America: The Costa Rican Experience (SUNY Press, 2001).

My research continued to follow trends in Latin American political economy toward state reform, in particular bringing the ideas of new public management, then in vogue, to social service bureaucracies like education and health. I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time. I chose to study health because it offered the opportunity to learn about a whole new field. This research resulted in articles about health reform in Costa Rica, Panama, and El Salvador. Costa Rica and Panama both have near-universal health care systems although they evolved differently and consequently face distinct challenges in reaching the last pockets of uncovered population. My article on El Salvador explored the health policy of the first ever FMLN administration, searching to sort out the roles of ideology, political pragmatism, and technical limitations.

Currently, my research focuses on mental health policy in Central America and the Caribbean as well as competition among disease priorities at the World Health Organization. Globally, even in poor countries, most deaths result from chronic or noncommunicable diseases. The World Health Organization has only recently focused on controlling these causes of premature death and disability but must prioritize a few from among the many. Oddly, although it is a top cause of disability globally and in Latin America and the Caribbean, mental illness did not make the list. My research seeks to find out why. I am also conducting field research for a related project on suicide prevention policy in Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Belize, and Guyana.

Research on health policy has strongly influenced my teaching and professional service activity. I teach a course on comparative health systems (Politics & Health), another on the intersection of international relations and global health (Controversies in Global Public Health), and in fall 2019 will debut a new course on food policy that will include consideration of health effects. I also enjoyed working with the Tulane Medical School as co-chair of the Creative Pre-Medical Scholars Program for several years. As part of the Latin American Studies Association, I’ve served as chair of the Health, Science, and Technology section and I am currently an active member of the Global Health section of the International Studies Association.

  • B.A., Latin American Studies, Carleton College, 1984
  • M.A., University of Wisconsin, Political Science, 1987
  • Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Political Science, 1993
Academic Experience
  • Associate Professor, Tulane University, 2000-
  • Senior Associate Member, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, 2001-2002
  • Assistant Professor, Tulane University, 1994-2000
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Tulane, 1993-1994

Research & Teaching Specializations: Health policy in Central America and the United States

Related Experience
  • Interim Associate Dean for Finance and Planning, School of Liberal Arts, Tulane University, 2011-2012, 2013-
  • Executive Director, Center for International Studies, Tulane University, 2004-2006
  • Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Political Science, Tulane University, 2002-2004
  • Program Coordinator, MacArthur Scholarship Program, Institute for Global Studies, University of Wisconsin, 1991-1992
  • Mortar Board Recognition for Excellence in Teaching, Tulane University, 1998-1999
  • Mellon Foundation Research Grant, 1994, 1996
  • Bernstein Newcomb College Fellowship, 1996-1997
  • MacArthur Foundation dissertation fellowships, 1989-1991
  • Organization of American States dissertation fellowship, 1989-1990
  • Spanish
Overseas Experience
  • Costa Rica
  • Chile

Selected Publications

  • 2017. “El cambio sí llegó al sistema de salud,” El Faro (El Salvador).
  • 2016. “Expert Advice and Noncommunicable Diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean” Panoramas (Center for Latin American Studies). University of Pittsburgh.
  • 2015. “The New Left and Healthcare Reform in El Salvador” Latin American Politics and Society, 57(4): 97-118.
  • 2015. “The Meanings of Universal Health Care in Latin America,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. 40(1): 221-226.
  • 2013. “The Final Frontiers of Health Care Universalization in Costa Rica and Panama,” Bulletin of Latin American Research (published on-line June 1, 2013).
  • 2011. “The DR-CAFTA and the Costa Rican Health Sector: A Push toward Privatization?” The Latin Americanist 55(3): 3-23.
  • 2010. “Access to Care versus Access to Coverage: What Can We Learn from the Louisiana State Hospital Model?” World Medical & Health Policy 2(1): 107-125.
  • 2010. “Rebuilding the Past: Health Care Reform in Post-Katrina Louisiana,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law 35(5): 743-769.
  • 2005. “Health Reform, Doctors, and the Physician Labor Market in Costa Rica.” The Latin Americanist. 49 (1): 125-148.
  • 2004. “Health Sector Reform in Costa Rica: Reinforcing a Public System.” In Crucial Needs, Weak Incentives: Social Sector Reform, Democratization, and Globalization in Latin America. Robert Kaufman and Joan Nelson, eds. Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • 2001. “Costa Rica: Portrait of an Established Democracy.” In Citizen Views of Democracy in Latin America. Roderic Ai Camp, editor. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • 2001. “Does Trust Matter? Interpersonal Trust and Democratic Values in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico.” With Timothy J. Power. In Citizen Views of Democracy in Latin America. Roderic Ai Camp, editor. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • 2001. Gradual Economic Reform in Latin America: The Costa Rican Experience. Albany: SUNY Press.

Recently-Taught Latin American-Related Courses: POLC-4392-01: Controversies- Global Public Health

Number of Dissertations or Theses Supervised in the Past 5 Years: 4

Full CV or Website
Curriculum Vitae