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Regime Change, International Aid and Democratization: The paradoxes of civil society development in shifting political contexts.

Manuel Bastias Saavedra
Freie Universität Berlin
Manuel Bastias Saavedra
Freie Universität Berlin
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Abstract

Recent Chilean history has been paradoxical if one observes the evolution of civil society in relation to its political environment. Despite the hard conditions the Pinochet dictatorship imposed on political and social organizing, after ten years Chilean civil society had developed a wide array of organizations, independent media and relations, which functioned both at the national and at the local level. On the other hand, after democracy was restored, there has been a tendency toward the demobilization and fragmentation of civil society organizations. This article takes the Chilean experience as a chance to explore the interactions between international funding, national organizations in charge of distributing resources, and the local environments that benefited from this work in a varying political context. Assuming the political process perspective in social movement literature, this study is empirically supported by qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews and of internal organizational documents collected for the 1973-1993 period. Raised international awareness resulting from the coup in 1973, led to the placement of important amounts of resources into civil society organizing. The organizations then developed projects that emphasized the formation of grassroots organizations and the education and training of grassroots leaders in order to assure the reproduction and autonomy of these base-level organizations. By 1986, Chilean civil society had developed an important organizational infrastructure and the organizations developed dense relations at the national and local levels. This organizational infrastructure was important for contesting authoritarian rule, as well as serving as a civic forum for the elections which ended Pinochet’s rule. After 1990, international funding has tended to decrease and concentrate on specific issues. As a consequence, many of the civic organizations founded during the dictatorship have had to reduce their staff, their projects, and assume a subordinate role to the State as it became the major source for funding.