Decentralisation and the Development of Local Democratic Institution in Latin America

Much of the impetus for decentralisation and local government reform in Latin America has been a strong, politically oriented reaction to the authoritarian, centralised governments and practices of the recent past.

The desire to divide power and strengthen national democratic regimes through the development of more responsive, participatory, and effective institutions-both locally and nationally- has been the single most compelling objective.

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The recent emergence of personalistic, nationalistic, populist, and/or centralising governments Venezuela and Bolivia being the clearest examples would appear to cast doubt on this assessment.

The new political dynamics in these countries leads to a lasting institutionalisation of centralisation or a reversal of the institutional reform seen over the past twenty years. The desire to centralise confronts countervailing political pressures.

Important factions of the new governing coalitions value the autonomy and authority that has come with decentralised government (Venezuela, for example); the government’s support may rest on the inclusion of new political forces that decentralisation facilitates (Bolivia); and in other countries (Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico), the political pressures for decentralisation continue to be felt.

In Bolivia over the past two years, for example, with the opening of all elections to indigenous and community groups and the direct election of departmental executives (prefectos), decentralisation has actually deepened considerably.

Barring a major reversal of democracy in the region, which can be considered highly unlikely, decentralisation and the emergency of local democracy will likely continue to be central to democratic consolidation in Latin America.

The principal point of this paper is that despite the region’s historic steps toward local democracy, the large majority of countries have yet to progress sufficiently to achieve the minimum threshold required for the establishment may entail only the (re)establishment of local elections, or it can involve a shift to the local level of variety of new functions and financial resources in a country that has regularly convened local election for decades.

Decentralisation thus involves three dimensions that represent, in essence, the components of power: political, administrative, and financial.

Basic progress along each one of these dimensions or what can be called minimum decentralisation provides local government with sufficient power for local. Decentralisation has been defined in a multitude of ways and definitional use tends to reflect the academic discipline.

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