Considering Local Democratic Transition in Latin America

Gary Bland


Drawing from well-known theories of democracy and democratic transition, this essay considers the transition to local democracy in Latin America. It raises a central question: Given the landmark decentralization of the past three decades, what constitutes local democracy in the region today and in which countries can we say it exists? Core considerations in comparing local democracy and national democracy are discussed. I present the concept of “minimum decentralization” and, using this framework, posit six procedural and institutional conditions for defining local democracy. Eighteen systems are evaluated against these conditions at the municipal and intermediate levels of government. Despite the real transfer of authority in many countries, and though several Latin American countries have established or nearly established local democracies, only a few of the local systems can be considered democratic. Though the conclusion is somewhat counter-intuitive, explanations for the slow development of decentralization and local democracy are considered.

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