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The Centralism of ‘Twenty-First-Century Socialism’: Recentralising Politics in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia

  • KENT EATON
Abstract

Presidents Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales have all sought to reverse the policies of decentralisation that were adopted in the 1990s in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. This article adapts ideational and institutional hypotheses from the earlier literature on decentralisation to explain this recent movement in the opposite direction. At the ideational level, because of the close association of decentralisation with liberalisation in each country, recentralisation emerged as a way for presidents to reverse the legacies of their neoliberal predecessors. Beyond ideology, recentralisation can be explained by paying attention to the territorial distribution of electoral support; presidents used it to weaken the sub-national governments where the opposition had found political shelter, while simultaneously redirecting recentralised resources toward supporters.

Los presidentes Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa y Evo Morales han buscado revertir las políticas de descentralización que fueron adoptadas en los años 90 en Venezuela, Ecuador y Bolivia. Este artículo adapta las hipótesis alrededor de ideas e instituciones a partir de la literatura previa sobre la descentralización para explicar tal movimiento reciente en la dirección opuesta. A nivel de ideas, debido a la cercana asociación de la descentralización con la liberalización económica en cada país, la recentralización surgió para que los presidentes pudieran revertir los legados de sus predecesores neoliberales. Más allá de la ideología, la recentralización puede ser explicada cuando se presta atención a la distribución territorial de la base electoral; los presidentes la han utilizado para debilitar a los gobiernos provinciales donde la oposición ha encontrado cobertura política, mientras que al mismo tiempo redirige recursos hacia sus bases.

Os presidentes Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa e Evo Morales buscaram reverter as políticas de descentralização adotadas nos anos 1990 na Venezuela, Equador e Bolívia. Este artigo faz uma adaptação das hipóteses conceptivas e institucionais da literatura anterior acerca da descentralização para explicar este recente movimento na direção contrária. No nível ideacional, devido à relação estreita entre a descentralização e a liberalização em cada país, a recentralização surgiu como uma maneira dos presidentes reverterem os legados de seus antecessores neoliberais. Além da ideologia, a recentralização pode ser explicada ao analisar-se a distribuição territorial da base de apoio eleitoral; os presidentes utilizaram-na para enfraquecer os governos subnacionais nos quais a oposição havia encontrado abrigo político enquanto, simultaneamente, redirecionaram recursos aos apoiadores.

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1 Weyland, Kurt, Madrid, Raúl and Hunter, Wendy (eds.), Leftist Governments in Latin America: Successes and Shortcomings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

2 On the first question, see Nickson, Andrew, Local Government in Latin America (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1995); and Eaton, Kent, Politics Beyond the Capital: The Design of Subnational Institutions in South America (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). On the second, see Bird, Richard and Vaillancourt, Francois (eds.), Fiscal Decentralization in Developing Countries (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

3 On urbanisation, see Samuels, David, ‘The Political Logic of Decentralization in Brazil’, in Montero, Alfred and Samuels, David (eds.), Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America (Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). On the post-Fordist economy, see Doner, Richard and Hershberg, Eric, ‘Flexible Production and Political Decentralization: Elective Affinities in the Pursuit of Competitiveness’, Studies in Comparative International Development, 34: 1 (1999), pp. 4582.

4 O'Neill, Kathleen, Decentralizing the State: Elections, Parties and Local Power in the Andes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Willis, Eliza, Garman, Christopher and Haggard, Stephan, ‘The Politics of Decentralization in Latin America’, Latin American Research Review, 34: 1 (1999), pp. 756.

5 The Chilean case figured prominently in this line of argument. See Marcel, Mario, ‘Decentralization and Development: The Chilean Experience’, in Ranis, Gustav (ed.), En Route to Modern Growth: Essays in Honor of Carlos Díaz-Alejandro (Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins University press, 1994).

6 Gaitán, Pilar and Moreno, Carlos, Poder Local: realidad y utopia de la descentralización en Colombia (Bogotá: Tercer Mundo, 1991).

7 Schmidt, Gregory, ‘Political Variables and Governmental Decentralization in Peru: 1949–1988’, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, 31: 1/2 (1989), pp. 193232.

8 de Carvalho, José Murilo, ‘El federalismo brasileño: perspectiva histórica’, in Chávez, Alicia Hernández (ed.), ¿Hacia un nuevo federalismo? (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económico, 1996).

9 Brazil is a particularly important case in this regard. See Sallum, Brasilio Jr., Labirintos: dos generais á Nova República (São Paulo: Editora Hucitec, 1996); and Eaton, Kent, ‘Decentralization's Non-Democratic Roots: Authoritarianism and Subnational Reform in South America’, Latin American Politics and Society, 48: 1 (2006), pp. 126.

10 Willis, Garman and Haggard, ‘The Politics of Decentralization’.

11 Although Morales enjoys less latitude within his party than Chávez and Correa do in theirs, his internal checks are generated by leaders of the constituent movements that make up the MAS, not by mayors or governors. See Madrid, Raúl, ‘Bolivia: Origins and Policies of the Movimiento al Socialismo’, in Levitsky, Steven and Roberts, Kenneth (eds.), The Resurgence of the Latin American Left (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

12 Falleti, Tulia, Decentralization and Subnational Politics in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

13 This is not to say that presidents have refrained from seeking to affect the independence of electoral processes at the sub-national level, as discussed in the case studies below, but these have not so far taken the form of a direct push to cancel sub-national elections.

14 O'Neill, Kathleen, ‘Decentralization as an Electoral Strategy’, Comparative Political Studies, 36: 9 (2003), pp. 1068–91.

15 On Venezuela, see Hellinger, Daniel and Ellner, Steve, Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarisation and Conflict (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2004). On Ecuador, see Conaghan, Catherine and de la Torre, Carlos, ‘The Permanent Campaign of Rafael Correa: Making Ecuador's Plebiscitary Presidency’, Press/Politics, 13: 3 (2008), pp. 267–84. On Bolivia, see Crabtree, John and Whitehead, Laurence, Unresolved Tensions: Bolivia Past and Present (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008). On the resurgence of the Left more generally, see Levitsky and Roberts (eds.), Resurgence.

16 Renata Segura and Ana María Bejarano, ‘¡Ni una asamblea más sin nosotros!: Exclusion, Inclusion and the Politics of Constitution-Making in the Andes’, article presented at the 2009 LASA Conference, Toronto.

17 This landscape changed only in 2010 with the strong performance of the opposition in the November legislative elections, in which the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV) won 48.3 per cent of the vote.

18 Eaton, Kent, ‘Conservative Autonomy Movements: Territorial Dimensions of Ideological Conflict in Bolivia and Ecuador’, Comparative Politics, 43: 3 (2011), pp. 291310. See also Burbano, Felipe, ‘Las luchas autonómicas de Guayaquil y Santa Cruz’, in Arceo, Enrique and Basualdo, Eduardo (eds.), Los condicionantes de la crisis en América Latina (Buenos Aires: CLACSO, 2009).

19 Grindle, Merillee S., Audacious Reforms: Institutional Invention and Democracy in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

20 Becerra, Michael Penfold, ‘Electoral Dynamics and Decentralization in Venezuela’, in Montero, Al and Samuels, David (eds.), Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America (Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), pp. 155–79.

21 The Pérez government also legislated an approach to administrative decentralisation that enabled sub-national governments to petition for the transfer of expenditure responsibilities on a case-by-case basis. Mascareño, Carlos, Balance de la descentralización en Venezuela: logros, limitaciones y perspectivas (Caracas: Editorial Torino, 2000).

22 Mascareño, Carlos, ‘Descentralización, recentralización y sociedad Civil’, in CENDES, Venezuela vision plural (Caracas: CENDES, 2005).

23 Becerra, Michael Penfold, ‘Federalism and Institutional Change in Venezuela’, in Gibson, Edward (ed.), Federalism and Democracy in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), p. 166.

24 Mascareño, Carlos, ‘El federalismo venezolano: hacia dónde va en el régimen chavista’, in Salamanca, Luis and Pastor, Roberto (eds.), El sistema politico en la constitucion Bolivariana de Venezuela (Caracas: IEP, 2004), p. 460.

25 As a result, after 2000 44 per cent of the population lived in an opposition-governed state, or 63 per cent when the Metropolitan District of Caracas is considered, where former Chavista Adolfo Peña quickly went over to the opposition after his election as mayor.

26 de la Cruz, Rafael, ‘Decentralization: Key to Understanding a Changing Nation’, in McCoy, Jennifer and Myers, David (eds.), The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

27 Brewer-Carias, Allan, Federalismo y municipalismo en la Constitucion de 1999 (Caracas: Editorial Jurídica Venezolana, 2001).

28 Rangel, Christi, ‘El debilitamiento de las finanzas municipales en Venezuela y sus consecuencias’, Ciencias de Gobierno, 9: 18 (2005), p. 9.

29 Mascareño, ‘Descentralización, recentralización y sociedad civil’, p. 156.

30 ‘Chávez amenaza con encarcelar a gobernadores opositores’, El Universal, 16 March 2009.

31 Suggest, James, ‘Venezuela Transfers Administration of Ports and Airports to National Government’, Venezuela Analysis, 16 March 2009.

32 ‘Nueva figura de jefe de gobierno de Caracas eclipsa a alcalde metropolitano’, Agence France Presse, 7 April 2009.

33 ‘Chávez impide tomar posesión a los gobernadores opositores’, El País, 19 Dec. 2008.

34 As another example of targeting, the government has also ramped up its pursuit of judicial proceedings by prosecuting or threatening to prosecute a number of current and former sub-national officials. The list includes Oswaldo Álvarez, Didalco Bolívar, Henrique Capriles, Henri Falcón, Antonio Ledezma, Leopoldo López, Adolfo Peña and Manuel Rosales.

35 See Corrales, Javier and Becerra, Michael Penfold, The Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chávez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2011); and Hawkins, Kirk and Hansen, David, ‘Dependent Civil Society: The Circulos Bolivarianos in Venezuela’, Latin American Research Review, 41: 1 (2006), pp. 102–32. For the argument that Chávez does not always control these spaces, see Fernandes, Sujatha, Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chávez's Venezuela (Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

36 ‘Autoridades regionales pueden anular a gobernadores y alcaldes’, El Nacional, 6 Aug. 2008.

37 Mascareño, ‘Descentralización, recentralización y sociedad civil’.

38 Sánchez, Jorge, Federalismo y descentralizacion en Venezuela (Caracas: Ediciones Movimiento Civil por la Unidad, 2008), p. 17.

39 Suggest, James, ‘Venezuelan Opposition Governors Instigate “Rebellion” Against Centralisation of Ports and Airports’, Venezuela Analysis, 25 March 2009.

40 ‘Ledezma se niega a reenganchar a trabajadores despedidos ilegales’, PSUV Noticias, 15 July 2009.

41 Rangel, ‘El debilitamiento de las finanzas municipales’.

42 Jorge Sánchez, Federalismo y descentralización en Venezuela, pp. 21–6.

43 Guzmán, Marco Lara, Camino y significación del Partido Social Cristiano (Quito: Corporación Editora Nacional, 2005).

44 Frank, Jonas, Decentralization in Ecuador: Actors, Institutions and Incentives (Baden-Baden: NOMOS, 2004).

45 Muñoz, Francisco, ‘Introducción’, in Munoz, (ed.), Descentralización (Quito: Tramasocial Editorial, 1999).

46 Noboa, Ricardo, El país del no (Quito: Editorial Edino, 2004).

47 For more on the pro-market turn taken in the 1998 assembly, see Bowen, James, ‘Multicultural Market Democracy: Elites and Indigenous Movements in Contemporary Ecuador’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 43: 3 (2011), pp. 464–7.

48 ‘Región autónoma supeditada a unión de las provincias’, El Universo, 9 July 2008.

49 ‘Constitución es retroceso para Guayaquil: Nebot’, El Diario, 22 July 2008.

50 Interview with Emilio Palacio, political editor of El Universo, Guayaquil, 5 June 2008.

51 Interview with Carlos Baquerizo, president of the Guayaquil Civic Board, Guayaquil, 4 June 2008.

52 ‘Régimen retira fondos a Corporación para Seguridad Ciudadana de Guayaquil’, El Universo, 16 June 2008.

53 ‘Correa firmó decreto para que Santa Elena sea provincia’, El Universo, 1 March 2007.

54 ‘Rafael Correa promueve plan de regionalización en Ecuador’, La Hora, 15 Jan. 2008. See also Ibarra, Hernán, ‘Provincializaciones e inercias del ordenamiento territorial’, Ecuador Debate, 70: 3/4 (2007), pp. 510.

55 Interview with Ricardo Noboa, member of the 1998 constituent assembly, Guayaquil, 5 June 2008.

56 This was a major setback for pro-autonomy advocates in Guayaquil, who believed that local control of the port had been critical to the successful drive for autonomy in Catalonia that they held up as a model. Interview with former congressman José Illingworth, Guayaquil, 10 June 2008.

57 Frank, Decentralization in Ecuador.

58 Paulina Recalde, ‘La redimensión de la política social en el Ecuador: el bono de desarrollo humano en el gobierno de Rafael Correa’, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 2007.

59 ‘La nueva dependencia servirá para efectuar trámites de 15 subsecretarías’, Diariocritica del Ecuador, 26 July 2007.

60 Two and a half years later, Correa subsumed the new ministry within the even grander National Secretariat for Planning and Development (SENPLADES).

61 Molina, Fernando, Historia de la participación popular (La Paz: Secretaría Nacional de Participación Popular, 1997).

62 Regalsky, Pablo, ‘Political Processes and the Reconfiguration of the State in Bolivia’, Latin American Perspectives, 37: 3 (2010), pp. 3550.

63 O'Neill, Kathleen, Decentralizing the State: Elections, Parties and Local Power in the Andes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

64 Cott, Donna Van, From Movements to Parties in Latin America: The Evolution of Ethnic Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

65 Roca, José Luis, Fisonomía del regionalismo Boliviano (2nd edition, La Paz: Editores Plural, 1999).

66 Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval, ‘The Distribution of Bolivia's Most Important Natural Resources and the Autonomy Conflicts’, Issue Brief, Centre for Economic Policy and Research, July 2008.

67 As a result, political scientist Diego Ayo Saucedo has argued that the MAS draft was ‘hypercentralist’ and that it would downgrade the role of prefects. See Saucedo, Diego Ayo, ‘Las autonomías entre “hegemonistas” y “consociativos”’, in Miradas: un nuevo texto constitucional (La Paz: IDEA Internacional, 2010), pp. 166, 170. The MAS draft also established a high threshold (two-thirds) for the passage of the framework law that would be necessary to implement any future petition for autonomy. See Prats, Joan, Hablando de autonomías con Joan Prats (Santa Cruz: Editorial El País, 2009), p. 94.

68 Ibid., pp. 166, 170.

69 Suvelza, Franz Barrios, Hacia un pacto territorial en Bolivia (La Paz: UNDP, 2008).

70 Weisbrot and Sandoval, ‘The Distribution of Bolivia's Most Important National Resources’, p. 9.

71 ‘Gobierno ratificó recorte al IDH y se viene boicot cívico’, El Deber, 7 July 2008.

72 ‘Los cuatro prefectos de la “media luna” ayunan’, El Deber, 9 Aug. 2008.

73 See Ayo Saucedo, Miradas; Prats, Hablando de autonomía, p. 71; and Suvelza, Franz Barrios, ‘Reflexiones sobre algunos aspectos estructurales’, in Miradas: un nuevo texto constitucional (La Paz: IDEA Internacional, 2010).

74 See Fenwick, Tracy Beck, ‘Avoiding Governors: The Success of the Bolsa Família’, Latin American Research Review, 44: 1 (2009), pp. 102–31; and Hunter, Wendy and Power, Tim, ‘Rewarding Lula: Executive Power, Social Policy, and the Brazilian Elections of 2006’, Latin American Politics and Society, 49: 1 (2007) , pp. 130.

75 Eaton, Kent, ‘Recentralization and the Left Turn in Latin America: Explaining Divergent Outcomes in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela’, Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming.

76 For a review of this debate, see Weyland, Kurt, ‘The Left: Destroyer or Savior of the Market Model?’, in Levitsky, and Roberts, (eds.), Resurgence, pp. 7192. As Weyland argues, ‘the Latin American Left in the 21st century may save rather than destroy the market system’ (p. 72).

* In addition to my research assistant, Matthew Boitano, I would like to thank Jeff Bury, Tyler Dickovick, Maiah Jaskoski, Flora Lu, Mark Massoud, Eleonora Pasotti, Ben Read and Roger Schoenman for their helpful comments on this article. I am grateful to the UC Pacific Rim programme for research support, and to Edward Schatz and Ana María Bejarano for the invitation to present an earlier version of this article at the University of Toronto in 2010.

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