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How to Advance the Participation in Latin America, the Most Unequal Continent? Strategic Annotations

Bernardo Kliksberg

In the 12 elections that have been completed in Latin America between November 2005 and December 2006, virtually all candidates have promised more participation. It is worthwhile questioning whether the new impulse to the participation will be only a new fashion, or if the conditions for participation are in place for its consolidation in the Latin American historical circumstances. This paper explores this key question, identifies the conditions which favor the participation, and provides elements to design organic policies enabling these conditions. It analyzes the main trends of change currently observed in the region, the particular role of participation in unequal societies, exemplary participation experiences (Porto Alegre in Brazil, Villa El Salvador in Peru, Rosario in Argentina), obstacles and resistances, some prerequisites for effective participation in the region, and perspectives.

Latin America has deep social problems, in spite of political and economic advancements, and its exceptional potential of natural resources. Poverty and extreme poverty have remained stagnated at high levels. There were 146 million poor people in Latin America in 1980, among them, 60 million were extremely poor. In 2005, 228 million were poor and 94 million of them extremely poor. This “latent social volcano” has been the main reason why, from 1993 to 2005, 14 Latin American Presidents have been forced to leave office before their term expires by vast civil society protests.

One of the main reasons of this persistent and paradoxical poverty lies in the steep inequalities. The distance between the richest 10% and the poorest 10% is 14 to 1 in Italy, and 17 to 1 in the United States, but it is 54 to 1 in Brazil, 59 to 1 in Colombia, and 63 to 1 in Guatemala. The current levels of inequality are “very unfair” o “unfair” for 9 out of 10 Latin Americans.

Participation may enable virtuous cycles: more participation would allow more sensitive public policies, higher social investments, and eradication of corruption; all which would provide more opportunities for the poor, who, empowered, would have more participation. This is desirable in any historical context, but in the particular case of Latin America (the most unequal of all regions), it is the master key for peoples recovering their voices, balancing societies, and creating conditions to face the intolerable current levels of poverty.

The region has had significant successful experiences and it has a vast social capital. New political leaderships are promoting inclusive projects. However, to avoid the resistances to participation (among them, the resistance to democratize power), participation needs to be included in the big agenda of social mobilization.

 

Key words: Citizen Participation; State-Society Relationship; Democratization; Poverty; Economic Disparity; Social Inequality; Social Capital; Social Participation; Social Administration; Latin America

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