From Global Rights to Local Practices: Constitutional Reform and Participation in Latin America
This project aims to study the impacts of reforms to increase participation rights in five Latin American countries at the local level. During the 1990s, most Latin American countries adopted ambitious constitutional reforms recognizing the right to participation. Examples include: -consumer rights in public utilities regulation -victims' rights to participate in prosecuting grave human rights violations -the right to be consulted about large development projects. The new participation rights are intended to help guarantee that individuals can have a say in processes of government decision- and policy-making. More generally, governments adopted those rights to improve accountability, increase local ownership of decision-making, and to increase their democratic legitimacy. On the surface, many of these new participation arrangements look the same, often reflecting international best practices. Existing academic and policy research has focused on the institutions, or only analyzes participation rights in terms of whether a legal text or court judgement guarantees those rights. In reality, very little is known about what impact expanded participation rights have had on decision-making, accountability, and development processes at the local level. The impacts may be positive or negative, intended or unintended. Equally unclear is how citizens, individually or through civil society, can make effective use of the new arrangements. There are other questions, too. For example, have the reforms lived up to the goals of helping enhance public officials' legitimacy and accountability? Have they improved public responses to local-level challenges? This research seeks to fill important knowledge gaps on participation and develop a better understanding of participation in Latin America. Partner institutions in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru will conduct a case study through their legal clinics. The research will combine legal and qualitative research methodologies, while engaging civil society groups. Researchers will study those groups' ongoing efforts to enhance participation. The research aims to generate actionable policy proposals to improve how participation rights reforms are implemented in each of the five countries. The recommendations will aim to support democratic transformations in the region, while feeding into larger international legal and policy debates on participation.