Reclaiming Democracy: Popular Participation of the Left and Right in Venezuela and Bolivia

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: Booth 46
Oral Presentation
Gabriel HETLAND , Sociology, UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Dept of Sociology, Berkeley, CA
Participatory budgeting (PB), a practice that gives urban residents control over local budget decisions, has spread to hundreds of cities in Latin America and around the world since the 1990s. PB was originally closely tied to a Left political agenda; the most radical proponents of PB envisioned it as a tool that could be used to foment socialist revolution. But the World Bank has also championed PB. And while PB has most often been initiated by Left parties, there are a number of cases of PB in cities controlled by centrist and rightwing parties. For the most part, scholars have failed to grapple with the question of “rightwing participation”, and most scholars argue that participatory reforms, such as PB, can only succeed when a Left party is in power at the local level. Through a nested, cross-/sub-national comparison, based on 19 months of ethnographic research, my dissertation interrogates this assumption by looking at participatory budgeting in cities run by the Left and Right in Venezuela and Bolivia. I expected to find more success in my two Left cases. Surprisingly, I found robust participation in my Left and Right Venezuelan cases but limited participation in my Left and Right Bolivian cases. I was also surprised to find greater success in my Venezuelan cases given the greater strength and autonomy of social movements in Bolivia compared to Venezuela and the distinct trajectories through which Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales rose to prominence (Chávez through a failed military coup and Morales through social movements). I argue that these unexpected findings can only be explained by examining the relationship between local and national politics in Venezuela and Bolivia.