Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America

In This Review

Decentralization and Democracy in Latin America

Edited by Alfred P. Montero and David J. Samuels
University of Notre Dame Press, 2004
320 pp. $47.50
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States and municipalities are gaining strength in Latin America, eroding the region's deep-seated centralism. To ponder the causes of this decentralization, accomplished scholars Stephan Haggard and Steven Webb are joined by a number of promising younger analysts in this edited collection. They collectively judge that partisan political ambitions, not lofty principles of efficiency or accountability, are often the main motivation for devolving political power: where leaders see opportunities to strengthen their parties or win local election, they change the rules to transfer power to local authorities--their cronies. And although decentralization can improve the quality of democracy, local elites are often just as corrupt as national leaders. Moreover, the transfer of authority too frequently occurs without adequate financial support, making local officials look incompetent. The authors also warn that decentralization is neither unprecedented nor inevitable--nor, as Hugo Chávez is demonstrating in Venezuela, is it irreversible.