Bolivia's Popular Participation Law: A case of decentralized decisionmaking

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

William C. Smith - Committee Chair


This dissertation examines how changes in local governance affect participation in decisionmaking and development in the context of neoliberal reform in Bolivia. My research analyzes how, and to what extent, decentralized decisionmaking, implemented to make neoliberalism more palatable, has changed local political institutions and what have been the results in terms of behavior and power relations between citizens and their elected officials.Because of its 1994 Ley de Participacion Popular (Popular Participation Law, LPP), Bolivia was selected as a case study to better understand the intricate phenomena of decentralization, democratization, and economic development in a Latin American context. The LPP decentralized decisionmaking and budgetary control for health, education, irrigation, local roads, cultural activities, and sports to the municipal level. Based on personal interviews and other field research in provincial Bolivia, this dissertation considers the variation in outcome across types of communities, municipalities, and regions.My results indicate that newly created rural municipalities tended to benefit from decentralization through gains in political participation and access to funds, thereby improving decisionmaking and public services, while previously privileged urban centers with entrenched local elites showed little change in budgeting. For a variety of reasons discussed in the text, Popular Participation has been more readily accepted and taken advantage of in the eastern lowlands than in the western highlands.My research demonstrates that new funds were initially spent on cosmetic projects, followed by infrastructure, such as schools and health centers. More recently, there has been a trend toward more productive infrastructure investment, such as roads, irrigation, and programs to improve cattle ranching. Participation of indigenous persons increased with the legal recognition of traditional forms of governance, while female participation decreased in the face of increased male competition for office tiggered on by the availability of new resources. Entrenched local elites, and a traditional, exclusionary political culture, have constrained the decentralization program. Additional obstacles to increased participation in local level decisionmaking, which are discussed at length in the dissertation, include weak oversight, creation of parallel leaders, paternalism, corruption, border disputes, central government delays, increased costs, and politics. Despite these obstacles, Popular Participation has improved access to decisionmakers and addressed regional budget inequalities, making the case that it is possible, and feasible, to implement neoliberal reform without ignoring the urgent need to promote democratic participation.


History, Latin American; Political Science, General; Political Science, Public Administration

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