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Upgrading Capacities to Govern in Latin America

Yehezkel Dror

This paper comments on the Latin American failure to achieve development and the possibilities for overcoming the present situation. A description of the necessary tasks for carrying out the state reform process, improving governmental capacities and promoting societal transformation is provided, together with a set of recommendations.

Over and above their existing differences, the Latin American countries share a common frustration vis-a-vis their failure in the field of development, and a concern as to overcoming socioeconomic and political stagnation. This situation is in contrast with the objective existence of resources and instruments that could drive development, which would indicate that the causes for Latin American stagnation are not only material.

The explanations for the Latin American failure are many, but they may be grouped in three broad areas. Firstly, the legacy of Spanish and Portuguese colonial traditions; secondly, Latin America never experienced the period described by Joseph A. Schumpeter as "constructive destruction", which holds that profound breaks with the social order allow for radical innovation, and thirdly, the timing of the region’s insertion into the international economy has been inappropriate, and thus capital produced in the region is not being reinvested in it.

The current situation may not be overcome through incremental improvements; rather, the structure of society and its projection towards the future must first be redefined. In this process, there is no need for the government to lead change, however, the State should take on the task of promoting societal transformation, which should be the basis of institutional reform efforts.

Recent reform in the areas of democratisation and integration, aimed at improving government administration in Latin American countries points to the existence of the will and the leadership to overcome the current situation. Nevertheless, there continues to exist a huge gap between available government capacity and the minimum requirements for implementing policies and action for change.

Progress in the following areas is essential if we are to radically improve government capacity for carrying out societal transformation: 1) concentration of power to effect a necessary, albeit painful, creative destruction; 2) development of broad strategies for change, stressing the selection of powerful "leaders"; 3) rapid implementation of "projects" selected to remove the bottlenecks and allow for change to take place, and 4) furtherance of multinational cooperation and integration efforts. In order to move forward quickly along these lines, the adoption of a "selective radicalism" approach is proposed for state reform, which would involve a total restructuring of government’s critical components.

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