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Gabriel Hetland: Democracy on the Ground – Local Politics in Latin America’s Left Turn

March 27 @ 7:00 pm 8:30 pm

Red Emma’s Bookstore (3128 Greenmount Ave)

The Program in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies is pleased to welcome Gabriel Hetland, Associate Professor of Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies and Sociology at SUNY Albany, for a conversation about his recent book,

Democracy on the Ground: Local Politics in Latin America’s Left Turn

Following a brief presentation, Prof. Hetland will chat with Dr. Nicole Fabricant (Towson University) about the research and implications of his work.

Is democracy possible only when it is safe for elites? Latin American history seems to suggest so. Right-wing forces have repeatedly deposed elected governments that challenged the rich and accepted democracy only after the defanging of the Left and widespread market reform. Latin America’s recent “left turn” raised the question anew: how would the Right react if democracy threatened elite interests?

This book examines the complex relationship of the Left, the Right, and democracy through the lens of local politics in Venezuela and Bolivia. Drawing on two years of fieldwork, Gabriel Hetland compares attempts at participatory reform in cities governed by the Left and Right in each country. He finds that such measures were more successful in Venezuela than Bolivia regardless of which type of party held office, though existing research suggests that deepening democracy is much more likely under a left party. Hetland accounts for these findings by arguing that Venezuela’s ruling party achieved hegemony—presenting its ideas as the ideas of all—while Bolivia’s ruling party did not. The Venezuelan Right was compelled to act on the Left’s political terrain; this pushed it to implement participatory reform in an unexpectedly robust way. In Bolivia, demobilization of popular movements led to an inhospitable environment for local democratic deepening under any party.

Democracy on the Ground shows that, just as right-wing hegemony can reshape the Left, leftist hegemony can reshape the Right. Offering new perspectives on participation, populism, and Latin American politics, this book challenges widespread ideas about the constraints on democracy.

Gabriel Hetland