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Political System and Public Policies in Latin America

Enrique Gomáriz Moraga

Although expressed in different ways, there is widespread coincidence that after several decades of neoliberal experimentation -based on the expectation that the market would establish the principles for orientation of society- now public policy and the State are back. Irma Arriagada from ECLAC expresses it this way: “during the decade of the ninetees and during the year 2000 a new systemic vision appears in the majority of Latin American countries -different from the Washington Consensus- which incorporates the needs and problems of the people and includes the social not only as an external result of growth and economic accumulation, but as a central issue, revaluating the State at the same time”.

This turnaround has generated a third generation of social policies and, in general, of public policies (PP) which implies not only more density of these policies, but also an increased political determination. This change of direction is reflected, for example, in the report about Latin American Economic and Social Progress in 2006 published by the Interamerican Development Bank (IADB), with the somewhat cacophonial title “The politics of public policy”. This report starts supporting that technocratic policies have been overcome and that the formulation processes of public policies have to be understood as part of the respective political system and its particular way of functioning.

However, this general change of orientation is still being put into practice in considerably uneven ways and with excessive levels of conceptual and methodological imprecision which tend to obstruct its advancement. In fact, the two basic categories (political system and public policies) are based on a remarkable amount of assumptions and self evidences which imply excessive theoretical and political risks. The intention of this article is to contribute to clarify this matter, as well as to establish references about the relationship between political system and public policies, in the context of democratic consolidation in Latin America today.

After describing the bases of both categories, political system and public policies, we coincide with the emerging idea that public policies are in fact products of each political system. Therefore, it is so important to recognize the differences between political systems of the United States of America and in Latin America, in spite of similar forms of government (presidentialism). The US-scenario with influent minorities should not be the model for development processes of PP in Latin America, especially if we are convinced that universal recipes should be avoided. However it seems, that in this case as in other matters, the US-American Political Science with its particular political tradition has excessive influence on the conceptual visions of many international organizations, even though this may just be only because their headquarters are based in Washington, D.C. or in New York City. Latin American Political Science, regional actors and public institutions should pay attention to this subtle but effective overlap, because its consequences go far beyond the academic field: they have an immediate effect on political analysis which then is offered as the reference for public action in the region.


Key words: Public Policy; Policies Formulation; Political Conditions; Citizenship; Latin America

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