We launched an Alliance to strengthen and expand the civic space in Latin America

Latin American democracy has been able to preserve more than two decades of governance, but this has not been enough to ensure its future. The roots of these democracies are not very deep and, due to the economic models implemented, they coexist with high levels of inequality and poverty. These factors have led to their instability, as citizens are dissatisfied and disappointed with their governments. To this day, it seems that the architecture of the State reproduces a system that concentrates power and generates a wide gap between the rulers and the ruled. Not recognized or hardly considered in this conversation are minorities and the most vulnerable groups.

2019 was a clear example of this public outcry, and millions took their demands and discontent to the streets. We saw strong social mobilizations in countries like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, questioning the economic development models and the lack of representation in the region’s governments.

 

In Bolivia, protests led to the premature end of the presidential term. President Evo Morales’ decision to ignore both the constitutional prohibition and the result of a referendum that denied him the possibility of running for his third election encouraged the opposition’s mobilization because of the suspicions of manipulation caused by an interruption of the quick vote count. In the streets, there were also protests at a police station, plus the military “suggestion” of the President’s resignation. Amidst this context, Morales went into exile two months before the end of his term. In Chile, in October 2019, President Sebastián Piñera ordered a 3% increase in subway fares, sparking massive protests in Santiago with more than 1.2 million participants. Thirty-three percent of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of the wealthiest 1%. A small elite, including members of the former military, controls most of the country’s remaining natural resources. Against this background, Piñera’s fare system produced what became known as the “Chile woke up” movement, which today is leading a process to write a new constitution for the country.

We cannot fail to mention that in the current health crisis, the excesses of power, the weakness of the institutions, and the extraordinary control measures that were announced in the region also threaten the already violated rights of Latin Americans. Many of these measures of states of exception were taken for the sake of security and accepted by the population. This has also increased social polarization.

The combination of these powerful challenges leads us to think of different scenarios to understand and try to do things differently.

 

We have to find ways to strengthen the counterpowers of an already worn-out representative democracy, and create opportunities to expand and decentralize power in a way that leads to greater participation and citizen management of resources and common goods.

To address this reality, we are launching Pulsante, an alliance between Fundación Avina, Luminate, and Open Society Foundations that seeks to support groups, organizations and social movements that develop innovative practices that allow citizens to get involved in decisions that affect the protection of their rights, the quality of public services they need, and that promote the accountability of their governments.

To achieve this objective, from 2020-2023 Pulsante will invest US$3 million to three priorities across the region:

  • Rapid response campaigns focused on achieving specific, time-sensitive victories to protect civic space and human rights.
  • Civic empowerment organizations strengthening experimentation with innovative democratic practices that increase citizen power, improve the quality of democracy, and guarantee greater social justice.
  • Social movements seeking to drive reforms to make democracies more transparent, participatory, and representative.

In addition to these priority areas, Pulsante will work at the ecosystem level producing knowledge for the field, fostering spaces for peer learning, and hosting events to spark collective thinking on the future of Latin American democracy.

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