by McElhinny, Vincent J.

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation is about decentralization and agrarian politics in post-war El Salvador (1992-1998). Decentralization of government has been prescribed widely in Latin America over the past two decades, justified on the premise that it encourages more accountable governance by empowering local actors. However, under conditions of high inequality and weak democracy, decentralization tends to reinforce already existing distributions of power is frequently captured instead by powerful elites as a top-down strategy for preserving their interests. Given this ambiguous mandate, a performance standard for empowered local actors is required. I propose a novel conceptualization of empowerment as my dependent variable that is multidimensional and is examined at three levels of analysis (individual, meso-organizational, macro-societal). I hypothesize that under conditions of high inequality and weak institutions, decentralization works (i.e. empowerment is achieved) when local actors acquire capital resources and through collective action they contest inequality to convert those resources into sustainable livelihood improvements and more favorable power relations. Effective decentralization can therefore be contentious and may disempower local actors when collective action problems are insurmountable. In El Salvador, two competing empowerment strategies may be distinguished. Empowerment by invitation is a top-down, elite brokered process of political negotiation, premised upon a positive sum distribution of the benefits and a prior acceptance of the rules of the game. Empowerment through conflict, on the other hand, implies a bottom-up, zero-sum contestation over political benefits, as well as very rules and privileges that assure elites a cut of any subsequent benefit distribution. To assess the performance of these competing empowerment strategies, I conduct a most similar case study comparison of three conflictive municipalities in the paracentral region of El Salvador that differ in one fundamental factor: their respective insurgent, hard-line counter-insurgent and moderate counter-insurgent political histories. Using survey analysis and process tracing, the evidence shows that where decentralization reinforced a process of diminishing inequality (Tecoluca) local actors were empowered to collect more local taxes, provide better services, achieve efficacious participation and attain more far reaching institutional coordination. The persistence of high inequality in both counter-insurgent cases weakened mechanisms for participation, accountability and transparency that in turn made decentralization highly susceptible to bureaucratic resistance, corruption and the prioritization of elite interests in other words, political capture.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Scott Morgenstern; Anibal Perez-Linan; John Markoff; Barry Ames

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:political science


Date of Publication:09/29/2006

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