Democratic Governance and Sustainable Development in Latin America


The pursuit of the public good requires collective action and leadership. The pressing social, economic and political problems facing Latin American countries are complex and exceed the capacity of each of the public, private and social sectors working alone. This series aims to raise awareness and foster discussion about current problems and challenges affecting democratic governance and sustainable development in Latin America. The events will explore the nature of the relationship between the State and civil society and its impact on various developmental outcomes.

April 16, 2009


Local Notions of Development and Indigenous Political Participation


Carmen MedeirosThis event was a thoughtful discussion with Dr. Carmen Medeiros, assistant professor in the Center for Latin American anad Caribbean Studies at NYU.

Like in many Latin American countries, the 1980s and 1990s in Bolivia were characterized by economic structural adjustment programs and decentralization of state administration. The last decade in Bolivia has been characterized by economic crises and social conflicts pointing to the failures of the previous reforms and the emergence of social movements demanding radical changes.

A particularity of the Bolivian decentralization reforms was their emphasis on rural municipalities through the implementation of the Popular Participation Law - actively supported by international aid agencies. Aid agencies and government officials conceived the Law as the main instrument to guarantee the participation of hitherto marginalized indigenous rural communities in local municipal government affairs and bottom up processes of development planning. Based on detailed ethnographic study of the law's implementation processes in the rural highlands during the 1990s and recent visits to the studied municipalities, Dr. Medeiros will discuss the local appropriation of the institutions created by the law as sites of contestation where regional and local actors have struggled over the political meanings and the material implications of development, democracy, and citizenship.

Carmen Medeiros is an assistant professor and Faculty Fellow at NYU's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. As a cultural anthropologist she specializes in the Andean Region with particular emphasis on critical development and postcolonial theories, indigenous movements, and modern discourses on race, mestizaje and hybridity. Discussing contrasting notions of development and visions of citizenship in Bolivia, her current book project examines the "development encounter" between indigenous communities, regional state authorities, policy makers, national experts working for local NGOs, and national and foreign professionals working for transnational development aid agencies.

Before joining NYU, Dr. Medeiros taught at the Facultades Latinoamericanas de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO - Ecuador), Trent University, Wheaton College and the City University of New York. She has also been a consultant with Bolivian research centers, ministries, and international development agencies. 

April 6, 2009


Culture and Politics in Latin America:
Lessons from the Take-over of Public Media in the Oaxaca Uprising of 2006


Lynn StephenThis event was a lively conversation with Dr. Lynn Stephen, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon.

This talk will first outline some of the ways in which cultural production and consumption in Latin America become integrated into local political cultures and permit previously silenced models of governance and democratic participation to move into the cultural and political mainstream. The focus will then shift to the specific example of how several hundred women in Oaxaca City, Mexico from different types of backgrounds took over state and then commercial media for a period of several months. In the process of reprogramming television and radio they articulated specific rights they called the rights "to speak," "to be heard," and "to decide who governs." This discourse of rights was literally amplified over television and radio and then became an important part a larger social movement aimed at reconfiguring state politics, models of governance, and what it means to be a citizen of Oaxaca.

Lynn Stephen is a distinguished professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon and director of the emerging Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, and her work has centered on the intersection of culture and politics.

Born in Chicago, Illinois she has a particular interest in the ways that political identities articulate with ethnicity, gender, class, and nationalism in relation to local, regional, and national histories, cultural politics, and systems of governance in Latin America. During the past ten years she has added the dimension of migration to her research. She has conducted research in Mexico, El Salvador, Chile, Brazil, and the United States. 

Her newest book is titled Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon (March, 2007, Duke University Press). Other recent books include Dissident Women: Gender and Cultural Politics in Chiapas (co-edited with Shannon Speed and Aída Hérnandez Castillo (University of Texas Press, 2006), and Zapotec Women: Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Globalized Oaxaca (Duke University Press, 2005).

March 12, 2009


Governing from the Left:
Latin America's Left Parties in Boom Times and Busts


Robert KaufmanThis event was a lively discussion with Dr. Robert Kaufman, professor of Political Science, Rutgers University.

Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, the emergence of left governments has changed the political landscape in Latin America. Dr. Robert Kaufman's talk will focus on the reasons for the wave of leftist victories and the effects of their time in office.

Dr. Kaufman will examine differences in the way these governments have responded to the commodity booms of the mid-2000s and discuss the implications of the current economic collapse. He will give special attention to the experiences of Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina.

Dr. Kaufman received a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and is a Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. He has also been a visiting professor at Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, and a Fellow at Collegium Budapest.

Dr. Kaufman has written extensively on democratization, the politics of economic reform and more recently the politics of social policy reform. His most recent book is Development, Democracy, and Welfare States: Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe (Princeton University Press, 2008), coauthored with Stephan Haggard. The Political-Economy of Democratic Transitions (1995), also coauthored with Haggard, was the winner of the 1995 Leubbert Prize for the best book in comparative politics, awarded by the Comparative Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. He is co-editor with Joan Nelson of Crucial Needs, Weak Incentives: Globalization, Democratization, and Social Sector Reform in Latin America (2004), which focuses on health and education policies in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. 

December 11, 2008


Does Transparency Lead to Accountability?
Lessons from Mexican Civil Society Experiences


Jonathan FoxThis event was an engaging discussion with Dr. Jonathan Fox, a professor of Latin American and Lation Studies at UC Santa Cruz.

Mexico's laws and official political discourse now emphasize transparency. Citizens' "right to know" is assumed to encourage more accountable governance. Yet the relationship between transparency and accountability turns out to be more tenuous than many think. What difference have these reforms made in practice, and how do we know?

Dr. Jonathan Fox's presentation will include a conceptual discussion of the relationship between transparency and accountability, a national overview of Mexico's information access reforms, as well as lessons learned from diverse civil society strategies for exercising information rights.

Dr. Jonathan Fox teaches in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His current research projects focus on Mexican migrant civil society in the US and on accountability and transparency reforms in Mexico. His most recent books include Accountability Politics: Power and Voice in Rural Mexico (Oxford, 2007), Mexico's Right-to-Know Reforms: Civil Society Perspectives (FUNDAR, co-editor, 2007), and Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Fair Trade, Sustainable Livelihoods and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America (MIT, co-editor, 2008). 

November 20, 2008


The Tension between Representative and Participatory Democracy in Latin America


Patricio NaviaListen to this lively discussion with Dr. Patricio Navia, professor in the General Studies Program at New York University.

The election of Michelle Bachelet as the first woman president of Chile in 2006 constituted a mix of change and continuity in that country's politics. Bachelet is from the Concertación center-left coalition that has ruled Chile since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. Because she promised continuity in economic policies, her electoral victory represented an implicit endorsement by Chileans of the market-friendly economic policies championed by the Concertación.

In addition to being the first woman president, Bachelet also represented change, as she strongly advocated a bottom-up approach to politics and democratic consolidation. Whereas Chile's successful transition to democracy was characterized by elite agreements and the first three Concertación governments decisively adopted a top-down approach to consolidating democracy, Bachelet's campaign focused on popular participation and she promised to implement a new model of citizen's democracy.

Dr. Patricio Navia will explore the reasons why participatory democracy was central to Bachelet's campaign but no participatory democracy reforms have been adopted in Chile under Bachelet as her administration has continued to govern with traditional top-down instruments.

Patricio Navia is a master teacher of global cultures in the General Studies Program and adjunct assistant professor in the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. He is also a researcher and professor at the Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias Sociales at Universidad Diego Portales in Chile. He holds a Ph.D. in Politics from New York University, an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Political Sciences and Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has been a visiting professor at Princeton, New School University and Universidad de Chile and a visiting fellow at the University of Miami. He has published scholarly articles and book chapters on democratization, electoral rules and democratic institutions in Latin America in Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Democracy, Current History, Democratization, Social Science Quarterly and Americas Quarterly. In Spanish, he has published in Política y Gobierno, Foreign Affairs en Español, Nueva Sociedad, Estudios Públicos, Perspectivas, Letras Libres, Revista de Ciencia Política and the FLACSO yearly. He is a columnist at La Tercera newspaper and Capital magazine in Chile. His book Las grandes alamedas: El Chile post Pinochet was a best-seller in Chile in 2004. His second book Que gane el más mejor: Mérito y Competencia en el Chile de hoy (coauthored with Eduardo Engel), published August 2006, is on its third edition and was in the best selling list in Chile for more than 25 weeks.

Listen to the Audio Presentation.

October 24, 2008


The Conceptions of Social Policy: Universalism vs. Targeting in Latin America


Jose Antonio OcampoListen to this engaging discussion with Dr. José Antonio Ocampo, a professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Dr. Jose Antonio Ocampo will look at the debate on universalism vs. targeting in social policies in Latin America - for example, whether to provide universal access to health care or to target only the most vulnerable populations for such services. Dr. Ocampo will examine how social rights and the welfare state are conceptualized in industrial countries, and he will analyze how these ideas informed social policies in Latin America (on things like health care, education and Social Security) during the era of state-led industrialization.

Professor Ocampo will use this framework to analyze the emphasis on targeting that spread during market-oriented reforms in the 1990s. He will explain the recent return of visions of universalism in social policy and provide evidence of its strong redistributive effects, but also its higher fiscal costs.

José Antonio Ocampo, a Colombian citizen, has been a professor in the School of International and Public Affairs and Fellow of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University since July 2007. From 1998 to 2007 he served as the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and, prior to that, as Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

From 1989 to 1997, Dr. Ocampo held a number of high-level posts in the Government of Colombia, including Minister of Finance and Public Credit, Director (Minister) of the National Planning Department, and Minister of Agriculture. He has served as Executive Director of FEDESARROLLO, Professor of Economics at Universidad de los Andes, and Professor of Economic History at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and visiting professor at Cambridge, Oxford and Yale Universities.

Listen to the Audio Presentation.

September 24, 2008


Immigration, Diaspora and Politics


Robert SmithListen to this engaging discussion with Dr. Robert Smith, an associate professor at Baruch College.

Robert Smith will discuss how diasporas have been held up in recent years as the new solution to development problems - substituting an empowered diaspora for a state enfeebled by neoliberal reforms. Dr. Smith argues that this discourse has promoted a kind of "neoliberal diasporic citizenship" among the diaspora that does not fit the reality, but has had political uses. He also argues that diasporas and states seek different things from their relationship.

In his talk, Dr. Smith will focus on the evolving relationship between the Mexican state and the Mexican diaspora, with particular attention to the diaspora's place and influence in Mexican politics. He will discuss local and state inclusion in politics, the formation of diasporic bureaucracies by the state, and the contradictory inclusion of Mexican migrants in the 2006 political process through their vote from abroad. He will also draw on comparative cases.

Dr. Smith is an Associate Professor of Sociology, Immigration Studies and Public Affairs at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and the Graduate Center at CUNY. He is the author of more than 30 articles and book chapters on migration and related processes. He wrote the 2006 book, Mexican New York: Transnational Worlds of New Immigrants (California), which has won numerous American Sociological Association awards. He recently served as an expert witness for the Department of Justice in the Voting Rights Act case of U.S. v. Village of Port Chester. He is the cofounder of the Mexican Educational Foundation of New York, a nonprofit organization promoting educational achievement and committed leadership among Mexicans in New York.

Listen to the Audio Presentation.

The Democratic Governance and Sustainable Development in Latin America series is co-sponsored by NYU Wagner's Research Center for Leadership in Action, the NYU Wagner Office of International Programs, the NYU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the NYU Center for Global Affairs, the NYU Latino Studies Program, the Bickel and Brewer Latino Institute for Human Rights and the Alliance of Latino and Latin American Students.

Click here to see more past RCLA events.