Author (Your Name)

Spencer Fenniman, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.


David L. Nugent


On April 20, 1994, the Bolivian government promulgated Law 1551, the Ley de Participacion Popular (The Law of Popular Participation). This law was considered by policy-makers to be an innovative governance response to a history of rural exclusion from democratic procedures.Through the decentralization of many government functions to the level of the municipality, this new system of governance was heralded as the beginning to a new regime where there would be control social desde abajo-social control from below-and popular power in governance. The operating assumption was that through local control, rural populations would be able to effectively combat their own poverty. Nevertheless in the almost 10 years since the institutionalization of the system, only marginal changes have occurred in the country-the extensive poverty of the country (and especially its rural areas) has not overwhelmingly improved, social movements continue to struggle against the repressive neoliberal government. In order to better understand what municipal democracy looks like on the ground, I went to Bolivia in late December of 2003. I stayed in the rural municipality of Mizque, splitting my time between the urban center of Mizque and the small locality of Igueral, an hour drive and an hour walk from the town.Wherever I went in the municipality I spoke with residents, community leaders, NGO technicians and local government officials. In the municipal government I interviewed the leaders of the municipal government and reviewed municipal planning documents. I attended meetings and spoke with leaders of the campesino organizations. Because the municipality does not stop at its borders, I spoke with departmental social movement leaders, NGO professionals and government ministers in La paz and Cochabamba. And I kept my eyes tuned to the newspapers, the radio, and the newspaper-what Akhil Gupta (1995) considers 'public culture'. The question guiding my research was whether the institutions and procedures implemented by the Law of Popular Participation allowed for the empowerment of marginalized publics in the context of the municipality. I argue that the case of Mizque demonstrates that despite any gains that can be claimed, within the structure of the law and the neoliberal political-economic context of Bolivia, local publics remain "disempowered", unable to substantially alter their structurally reinforced marginality.


Decentralization in government -- Bolivia, Latin America -- Politics and government, 1980-, Political participation -- Bolivia, Social movements -- Bolivia, Democracy -- Bolivia, Minorities -- Bolivia -- Political activity, Peasantry -- Bolivia, Rural poor -- Bolivia, Bolivia -- Politics and government, Multiculturalism -- Latin America