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Tropentag, October 5 - 7, 2004 in Berlin

"Rural Poverty Reduction
through Research for Development and Transformation"

Popular Participation and Decentralisation: The Role of Social Actors in Reconfiguring Power Relations

Denis Aviles

Centre for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Political and Cultural Changes, Germany


The processes of decentralisation in Latin America have intensified during the last 20 years as the means to deconstruct the centralist state and its administrative inefficiencies and concentration of power. Administrative management and economic resources distribution, often accompanied by strengthening of local democracies were carried out.
In Bolivia, the Administrative Decentralisation Law came along with the Popular Participation Law, being both part of a set of legal State reforms . Both are recognised as the most ambitious attempt in the region to include historically marginalised social groups on the national life.
Despite the wide acceptance of the laws all along the country and the first successful experiences in deepening democracy in Bolivia, “there is no evidence showing that rural municipalities have enlarged substantially either their own income or their local productive surrounding” (Urioste, 2001:23). This can be explained by the many treats that are undermining the potential of the new laws to bring about better conditions for the population:

  • i) The inefficiency of the application of the PPL and ADL on addressing people's interests;

  • ii) The increasing set of regulations which undermines the empowering character of participation and;

  • iii The predominance of old elites and social dynamics that perpetuate, now as before the laws, the uneven relations of power.

While these threats can be related to the local lack of experience in financial and technical handling of projects along with lack of coherence between Departmental and Municipal policies, they are more largely related to dominant socio-political interests driving to explicit and implicit exclusion of groups with less capacity to link development interventions into their own life worlds. That is, the formal and informal exclusion of groups because of the difference of knowledge of formal systems of participation, different forms of representation systems, less connection to urban centres and lack of economic and political means to influence decision-making processes.
This study has the objective to compare how local actors and organisations reconfigure power relations in highly and less socio-political differentiated municipalities, under the processes of popular participation and decentralisation.

Keywords: Decentralisation, laocal development, local power, popular participation

Contact Address: Denis Aviles, Centre for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Political and Cultural Changes, Walter-Flex Straße 3, 53113 Bonn, Germany, e-mail: daviles@uni-bonn.de

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