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Remunicipalization in Latin America: Where are we now and where are we going? (my #LASA2016 talk)

LASA 2016 New York City 061I am certainly out-conferenced, but I would not have participated in this year’s Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference if I hadn’t committed to join a great panel chaired by Clara Irazabal from Columbia University and organized by my friend and coauthor Marcela Gonzalez-Rivas from University of Pittsburgh. It was in New York City (Manhattan) and I ended up only flying in and flying out for my presentation, so I didn’t actually develop a full paper (yet).

LASA 2016 New York City 028Instead of actually writing a full-fledged paper, I gave a slightly retouched version of a previous paper I presented at GIGAPP 2014 in Madrid (Spain) but updated with my new dataset and the conceptual framework I presented at the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago this year. Basically, the paper’s premise was that de-privatization (also known as remunicipalization) is a trend that has started to gain traction in the past few years despite Brookings Institutions’ push for private municipal water supply. I also presented some data from the Ramos Arizpe case, the only Mexican case (to date) that we know of remunicipalization, and a case I’ve studied myself. The Mexican National Water Commission (CONAGUA) has pushed quite aggressively for municipalities to outsource their water utility management to private companies.

Such is the case in the city I live in right now, Aguascalientes, which has private water supply. The fact that the federal government pushes for private water supply is somewhat bewildering, but even more so that they do so quite openly. Obviously, as I’m a fierce critic of privatization of municipal water utilities, I’m not popular with them (I’ve written extensively about the fallacy of efficiency in privatization of public service delivery and on the politics of water privatization in Mexico).

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Me presenting at #LASA2016 Photo credit Dr. Bernardo Bolaños, UAM

Here is the slide deck of my presentation, and below is the paper’s abstract. Once I’ve finished it I’ll publish it too.

Remunicipalization in Latin America: Where are we now and where are we going?
Raul Pacheco-Vega
Assistant Professor, Public Administration Division
Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE)
A paper presented at the 2016 Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA)
New York City, New York, USA
May 29th, 2016

Remunicipalization is one model of public service delivery where the local government takes back provision by ending private concession contracts. In the words of Wollman and Bakker (both of whom have used the “swinging pendulum” metaphor), we’re moving from public to private to public again. While the vast majority of the literature on remunicipalizations has focused on European cases, we have reached a point where there are enough instances of Latin American municipalities taking back drinking water supply back into their hands. This paper uses a unique dataset on global remunicipalizations (Kishimoto, Lobina and Petitjean 2015, N=235) and focuses its analysis on Latin American countries. In the paper, I examine the factors that drove remunicipalization of water supply and discern potential causal mechanisms for this de-privatization movement. I argue that, while we have a larger number of cases of remunicipalization, it is hard to discern if there is enough data for a generalizable enough theory of water supply de-privatization. In light of this insight, I propose a research agenda on the potential effectiveness of remunicipalization as a strategy to strengthen local water utilities, bring the public back in and provide more democratic engagement in water policy in Latin America.

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My friend and coauthor Dr. Marcela Gonzalez-Rivas (University of Pittsburgh) presenting her #LASA2016 paper

Overall, I have to admit I had a really good time. I am looking forward to working with Marcela on the second part of her research paper (we are coauthoring a paper now), and Clara Irazabal is an excellent discussant. On the personal side, I saw a lot of really good academic friends, I managed to squeeze some time to eat All The Ethiopian Food in Hell’s Kitchen, I wandered through Times Square, Chelsea, but still, I think I need to lay low at least for a couple of weeks. My photo set from LASA can be found here.

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