Challenges of Poverty: Confronting Issues of Sustainability and Inequality

Thursday, February 5, 2015
2:00pm – 3:15pm
Race Conference Room 201, Lavin-Bernick Center (LBC)
Moderated by: Dr. Susan Bridle-Fitzpatrick, Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Tulane University

Sustainability Challenges for Rural Water Boards in Panama
Kathryn Cheney, Tulane University

Panama, like many Central American countries, has two water systems – a publicly-managed urban system, and a more informal rural water system. The rural water system, made up of mostly gravity-fed aqueducts, has been largely created and maintained at the grassroots, community level without government support. Rural water boards, officially Juntas Administradoras de Acueductos Rurales (JAAR), are community-organized water governance systems that manage aqueducts serving their community, often consisting of 20-50 households. Over 3,700 JAARs throughout Panama’s rural areas face sustainability issues in various forms; recent legislative changes that require JAARs to legally register with the government are particularly concerning, as these changes threaten JAAR’s sovereignty as community organizations and most importantly, their access to water. This research examines the community-based and community-led structure of these rural water boards, and delves into the sustainability challenges JAARs face in the coming years.

Addressing Inequality in Brazilian Education: Considering the Potential of Teacher Quality Reforms and Performance Pay Initiatives
Kelly Stetter, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

In much of Latin America, high inequality, informality, and lack of access to quality public services have long presented barriers to those on the margins, preventing the socially and economically disenfranchised from breaking out of cycles of poverty and exclusion. Over the past 15 years, Brazil has undertaken direct efforts to dismantle many of these barriers, with particular focus on access to education. Conditional cash transfer programs like Bolsa Família have established a minimum standard of living for many of Brazil’s poor and are credited with helping Brazil achieve near universal primary school enrollment. Quality of Brazilian public education has also improved, as demonstrated by Brazilian students’ scores on the OECD Program for International Student Assessment. However, within the country, regional and racial inequalities remains a challenge for policymakers, with the northeast lagging behind the more industrialized south in terms of social and economic development. This paper examines education policies that attempt to address these inequalities by improving the quality of instruction in the public sector. Specifically, this paper considers a recent performance pay reform in the state of Pernambuco, in which teachers and schools received cash bonuses for achieving pre-set performance targets. Little has been published on the results of these types of programs and the Pernambuco program is innovative in its attempt to improve the quality of education by addressing Brazil’s notoriously low pay for public school teachers through performance based incentives. At the same time, affirmative action policies attempting to decrease racial imbalances in higher education are becoming commonplace. This paper argues that reforms that aim to address the imbalances in Brazilian education by improving teacher quality will ultimately have a greater effect on overall educational outcomes, as they attempt to address the problem at its root cause: poor quality instruction in the public sector.

Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in the Dominican Republic: The Beginning of the End for Clientelism?
Mart Trasberg, Tulane University

During 1950-1980s, most Latin American social assistance programs did not target the poor effectively, or served merely as clientilistic tools for securing electoral support. The implementation of conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs in the late 1990s and early 2000s introduced important changes in these dynamics, making social spending more pro-poor and creating better economic incentives for the marginalized. The CCT programs provide direct cash transfers to poorest households, while the beneficiary families must assure in exchange that their children attend school and participate in preventive healthcare services. This research paper sets out to explore to what extent have the new targeted social policies instituted changes in clientelist practices and constituted more programmatic approaches in welfare provision. The paper contributes to this debate by analyzing the case of Dominican Republic’s (DR) Solidarity (Solidaridad) program, seeking out to answer the question if the DR’s CCT program has constituted a truly programmatic approach to poverty reduction. The study focuses on the evolution institutional structures of Solidarity program during 2004-2014, and evaluates to what extent have the public technocratic criteria been used in the targeting of the benefits. Primary data was collected during field research in Santo Domingo in June-July 2014. Firstly, 12 interviews were conducted in aforementioned central government institutions and local Solidarity program offices, civil society organizations (Participación Ciudadania, Centro Bono) and academic institutions (Fundación Global de Democracia y Desarrollo, Universidad de Caribe). Secondly, 15 in-depth interviews in poor households receiving social assistance in the form of the Solidarity were conducted in Los Guaricanos and Los Minas neighborhoods in Santo Domingo, which are characterized by high poverty rates and large percentage of social assistance recipients.