Democracy Research Network

Andean Democracy Research Network: Monitoring Democracy in Latin America

Project Leader: M. Cameron
Partners: International IDEA, Comision Andina de Juristas (Andean Commission of Jurists), The Carter Center, Center for Latin American & Latino Studies at American University

Background: This project addresses both democratic performance and institutional change. Assessment will be of the performance, quality, and diversity of regimes and initiatives in the Andes, Central America, and Mexico (with the ultimate goal of encompassing the entire Western Hemisphere). Although our primary focus is national, we will also examine local experiences, including community councils, participatory budgeting in municipalities, and communal justice.  Focus will be on elections and representation, constitutional arrangements, and citizen participation. The analytical challenge is to understand the ecology of interactions among these systems.

The contemporary challenge in Latin America arises from its legacy of social exclusion coupled with the failure of officials, once elected, to govern democratically. The latter reflects the collapse of representative institutions. Especially important is the erosion of party systems, which creates openings for politicians to manipulate participatory demands for partisan ends. And the pacts that underpinned democratic transitions in the 1980s have come unstuck.  These pacts were designed to guarantee to politically relevant groups that their core interests—respect for private property for business and continued monopoly over coercion for the armed forces—would be protected.

With the erosion of the pacts and the rise of social movements, a new constitutional trend has emerged. Institutional change is back on the political agenda, in ways that may threaten elite interests. The spread of participatory mechanisms is accompanied by the growth of powerful social movements pushing for political-system change in the face of a crisis of representation. On one hand, this creates opening for new forms of democratic action and some of these forms clearly resonate with indigenous and popular understandings. But the reform impetus is also vulnerable to capture by authoritarian actors.

The central task of this project will be systematic and ongoing reporting on a number of countries in the region, to parse trends and to examine the ways that participation and representation interact, sometimes to reinforce each other, sometimes to work at odds. Participedia will be a key tool here, a platform for developing comparisons even as our evaluation teams become a critical early “crowd” for supplying content.

Activities: This is a major project that involves the Centre creating and operating an international research network dedicated to monitoring and reporting on the state of democracy. This is the initial stage for what could become a world-leading program for reporting on democracy in the Americas. It builds on projects that provide for international system reporting on human rights and on the international convention against anti-personnel landmines.

The project was launched at a meeting of regional experts convened in Lima, Peru, in December 2007. At that meeting scholars working on democratization research agreed on a common research strategy and outlined the analytical framework to be used in their reports. The pilot phase of the project was initially supported by the CSDI and the Martha Piper Fund at UBC and received its major funding from the Glynn Berry Program in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Government of Canada (DFAIT).

At a second meeting at UBC in July 2008, the distinctive research teams detailed their respective agenda and the network members agreed that their democracy assessment reports would focus on ten distinct dimensions of democracy – the electoral, constitutional and civil.

At the network’s meeting in Ottawa in Oct 2008, preliminary findings were discussed and briefings were provided to officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) as well as to officers of Canada’s development agencies International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The project met at the Latin American Studies Association conference in Rio de Janeiro in June 2009 to share its findings with the academic, civil society community, the public, and policy officials.

The project published its first set of reports in English with the renowned Chilean-based journal, the Revista de Ciencia Politica in February 2010, and has been made widely available via the web. A Spanish-language book was published in the Fall 2010 with the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.

In addition to its core commissioned reports, the project produces “flash reports” on crises as they occur in the region. The project has written flash reports on the recall referenda in Bolivia, the referendum on term limits in Venezuela, and the elections in Ecuador and referendum in Colombia.

Building on the ADRN’s previous work on three dimensions of democracy (electoral, constitutional, and citizenship), the aim of this stage of the project was to better understand the implications of the explosion of innovations in direct and institutionalized participation on the relationship between participation and representation in the Latin American region’s democratic regimes. This has been accomplished by commissioning, reviewing, and submitting for publication a set of theoretically-guided and empirically grounded studies of diverse direct participatory mechanisms such as community councils, consultative agencies, policy conferences, participatory budgeting, referenda and citizen initiatives. The second phase of the project was supported by Ford Foundation.

A superb group of junior researchers were identified and brought together with senior social scientists at workshops in Washington D.C. and Buenos Aires. These workshops created opportunities to mentor and cultivate junior researchers from diverse disciplinary and intellectual backgrounds. A new network and community among junior scholars was created, leading to new collaborations and connections among the researchers.

The ADRN is set to publish its most recent findings on participatory democracy in a Spanish-language book with FLACSO, Mexico; an English version will be published with Palgrave Press, entitled, New Institutions for Participatory Democracy in Latin America: Voice and Consequence. Both publications are expected in 2012.

The CSDI provides the intellectual and organizational leadership for the project but it is committed to supporting the development of local expertise in the region and on terms defined by the Inter-American Democratic Charter created by the Organization of American States (OAS).  The pilot phase of the project was initially supported by the CSDI and the Martha Piper Fund at UBC and received its major funding from the Glynn Berry Program in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Government of Canada (DFAIT).  For 2010-11, support for the project came from the Ford Foundation.