Democracy, Poverty and Local Responses
Humanity and Society, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 322-329, 2004
25 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2008
Date Written: August 2, 2004
In this paper I employ three concepts of democracy, "electoral," "civil" and "economic," to look at recent events in Latin America. Specifically, I suggest that at least in certain circumstances the roots of significant social change may lie not primarily in electoral but in economic democratisation, a process which may be most easily accomplished where there is a tradition of civil democracy.
A period of electoral democratisation in the 80's and 90's was accompanied by strong sense of expectation. The process was accompanied by neo-liberal reforms meant to deal with endemic economic problems in the region. Economic decline had set in again by the new millennium, breeding widespread dissatisfaction and unrest as evinced by electoral outcomes in Venezuela, and Brazil, and the forced resignation of four South American presidents since 2000.
hree cases illustrate a variety of local responses to this general picture. Cojimies, Ecuador, where poverty has only been deepened by electoral and economic reforms, expressed its despair by participating in the 2002 Presidential elections only when forced by the military. Salcocha, on the other hand, discovered a common will and the ability to act collectively which has provided an umbrella for entrepreneurial activity and local development. Pampa, shares the general skepticism for government and economic reforms from without. But its ingrained civic culture supports a dramatic form of collective entrepreneurship with strong social as well as economic outcomes. Salcocha and Pampa illustrate, in different ways, the approach and promise of economic democracy. These cases raise the question of whether the process of "democratization" does not have to be more closely linked with meeting human needs at the local level, for which economic democracy appears a promising instrument. They also suggest the need for both a critical examination of neo-liberal reforms, and support for civic culture where that is found.
Keywords: community-based enterprise, democracy and economy
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