With the role of local government becoming more important as Latin American countries moved away from state-led development models in the 1980s, and with social movements helping to bring about the transition to democracy, questions arose about whether and how popular participation at the local level might be able to contribute to the consolidation of democracy from the grassroots upward. This book, based on extensive research in low-income districts of Lima, provides a sophisticated analysis of the relationship between a resurgent civil society and democratization.
Exploring the complex interactions among urban popular movements, local government, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Schönwälder shows that the democratic potential of these movements is genuine but that their influence has been limited. His balanced assessment credits their achievements while illuminating the sources of their failures, mainly a variety of institutional barriers and a persistent threat of manipulation and co-optation by stronger actors, especially political parties. His analysis helps us understand better why the left has so often failed to convert its considerable support at the grassroots into political successes at higher levels.