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Open Access Publications from the University of California

CLAS Working Papers

The Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at the University of California, Berkeley is the locus of activity for a unique working community of Latin Americanist faculty, students and other research collaborators from the United States and Latin America. CLAS strives to enhance the work of UC Berkeley's Latin Americanist community and build bridges to other institutions, groups and individuals throughout the Americas. As part of that effort, the Center publishes two series of papers, CLAS Working Papers and CLAS Policy Papers, which are available both here and on the Center's website at

Cover page of Dangerous Spaces of Citizenship: Gang Talk, Rights Talk, and Rule of Law in Brazil

Dangerous Spaces of Citizenship: Gang Talk, Rights Talk, and Rule of Law in Brazil


This article considers an apparently perplexing aspect of democratization in Brazil: the use by notorious criminal gangs (comandos) from the poor urban peripheries and prisons of the discourses of democratic citizenship, justice, and rule of law to represent their own organizations and intentions. I situate this use within an unsettling development in Latin America generally during the last thirty years: the coincidence nearly everywhere of increasing political democracy and increasing everyday violence and injustice against citizens. My discussion considers these new territorializations of power and violence and their consequences for citizenship, democracy, and urbanization. To bring them to light, I focus on public pronouncements by Brazilian criminal gang that typically combine rationalities of crime with those of democracy, citizen rights, rule of law, and revolution. I also compare them with public declarations made by the police. I analyze both in relation to the historically dominant paradigm of Brazilian citizenship that democratization destabilizes. I then evaluate this destabilization with regard to the new kinds of violence and paradigms of insurgent citizenship that have emerged as characteristics of urbanization and democratization worldwide.

Cover page of The Bachelet Administration: The Normalization of Politics?

The Bachelet Administration: The Normalization of Politics?


This paper argues that the strengths of Chile’s model transition have turned into the weaknesses of its post-transition democracy. These weaknesses have become particularly apparent during the Bachelet administration. While the Bachelet government has undoubtedly suffered from leadership issues and poor judgement, we argue that an excessive focus on these issues has obscured some of the, perhaps more important, root causes of the difficulties of the Bachelet government. We argue that the governing coalition continues to rely on a model of elite politics developed during the democratic transition, which while initially successful, is counterproductive during the current period of democratic consolidation. This means that the very strengths of Chile’s transition have now turned into the weaknesses of the country’s post-transition status quo. Furthermore, the concomitant development of a normalized pattern of democratic politics among the Chilean public without significant change in elite politics has created a lack of congruence at the elite and popular levels, as well as within the elite, which explain some of the deeper reasons why the Bachelet government has experienced so many difficulties.

Cover page of A Record Number of Conflicts? Michelle Bachelet’s Inheritance of Unresolved Employment Issues

A Record Number of Conflicts? Michelle Bachelet’s Inheritance of Unresolved Employment Issues


In November 2008 a Mercurio headline proclaimed: “Record number of strikes under this government.” We can allege that the right-wing newspaper is engaging in manipulative fear-mongering, but the numbers do warrant attention. During the Bachelet administration Chile experienced twenty-seven strikes in less than three years, which constitutes a multiple of the total strikes under all previous Concertación governments put together. This paper will attempt to explain why labor issues have gained a much higher profile under the Bachelet administration than its policy makers had originally anticipated. It first presents some empirical evidence that summarizes key problems of the Chilean labor market before going on to discuss how employment issues moved up the political agenda of priorities as the political consensus surrounding labor policy was shaken up by the increased number of protests. Finally, it reviews the government’s attempt to establish a new policy consensus on labor issues through a dedicated commission and reviews its recommendations in the context of Chile’s development process.

Cover page of Decentralization and Access to Social Services in Colombia

Decentralization and Access to Social Services in Colombia


A central claim in favor of decentralization is that it will improve access to public services, but few studies examine this question empirically. This paper explores the effects of decentralization on access to health and education in Colombia. We benefit from an original database that includes over 95 percent of Colombian municipalities. Our results show that decentralization improved enrollment rates in public schools and access of the poor to public health services. In both sectors, improving access was driven by the financial contributions of local governments. Our theoretical findings imply that local governments with better information about local preferences will concentrate their resources in the areas their voters care about most. The combination of empirical and theoretical results implies that decentralization provides local officials with the information and incentives they need to allocate resources in a manner responsive to voters’ needs, and improve the quality of expenditures so as to maximize their impact. The end result is greater usage of local services by citizens.