The Changing Role of the State in Latin America

The Changing Role of the State in Latin America

The Changing Role of the State in Latin America

The Changing Role of the State in Latin America


Since the 1930s the state has played a primary role in the development process of Latin American countries, & political systems have had strong corporatist & authoritarian-centralist features. In the last several years, as that role has become increasingly incompatible with neoliberal reforms & the requirements of a transition to democracy, state power has been significantly decentralized, & the state has withdrawn from direct intervention in the economy. This book examines the consequences of the redefinition of the state for processes of democratization & state-civil society relations.


The relationship between state, economy, and civil society in Latin America has changed spectacularly in a rather short period of time. Less than two decades ago, the state almost crumbled under a barrage of criticism of its developmental role. National governments, under strong pressure from multilateral organizations, engaged in a program of radical restructuring of state activities: State bureaucracies were trimmed down, large numbers of personnel were laid off, and state intervention was strongly reduced in favor of the workings of market forces. In some cases the institutions of the state were dismantled, and vital policymaking capacity was lost.

Now, ten to fifteen years later, those involved in the restructuring process--including those at the multilateral level--are reflecting upon the results of the policies that had been recommended with mixed feelings, concluding that a change of course is indicated. As a result, the pendulum is swinging back. "State reform," the reconstruction of the institutional structure of the state and of its capacity to define and implement policies in areas that cannot be transferred to the private sector and must be considered core responsibilities of the state, have moved to the top of the political agenda. "Bringing the state back in" has become an acceptable policy option. The disagreements between economists who favor a strong developmental role for the state and those who support a weak state and the free unrestrained working of market forces have subsided. Many participants in the debate are taking a middle ground between the two positions.

It should not surprise us that this debate on development strategies, the role of certain economic sectors, the responsibilities of the state in relation to the market, and processes of state reform has been carried on with such fervor in Latin America. After all, the discussion about models of development that would combine economic growth with more equitable access to resources by the general population--requiring strong and decisive state action--has been an ongoing concern in the region for the last fifty years.

Where will this process lead and what will the role of the state be in this changing nexus of economic restructuring, privatization, democratiza-

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