Global Development Institute Blog

By Paola Pena

The political and social scenarios of Latin America have been shaped by the coming to power of ideological Left-wing governments along with the adoption and rapid expansion of a particular type of social assistance programmes known as Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT). It may seem obvious that these two facts are directly related. Leftist candidates obtain their electoral victories by following a common discourse of improving the high levels of poverty and inequality across the region. However, this may not be as straightforward as it seems. Therefore, in my Dissertation, I analyse the politics of the diffusion of Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America. A modified version of the dissertation has been published at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester, as a BWPI Working Paper 201 with the title “The Politics of the diffusion of Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America”.

The paper mainly discusses if the diffusion of CCTs was shaped by the emergence of “New Left” governments in Latin America. I analyze the adoption of these programmes across the region by relating them to the ideological leaning of the president who adopted it. I made a mapping that identifies the different policy diffusion waves. As a result of the analysis, three different waves were identified. The first wave of CCTs adoption in Latin America, from 1995 to 2000 was mainly led by Centre and Centre- Right ideological leaning presidents. The second wave represents the “turn to the left” of CCTs adoption, from 2001-2004 Centre-left and Left governments adopted CCTs. Finally, the third wave from 2005-2008 represents the diffusion of CCTs through the entire ideological spectrum. Also, using a Policy Diffusion framework I describe how the diffusion of CCTs took place.

I did not find specific characteristics in the motivations, actors and lesson-drawing process among Latin American countries that evidenced that the diffusion of Conditional Cash Transfers was shaped by the coming to power of Left-wing presidents. However, I did perceive a difference in the understanding of poverty between the Left and Right ideological leaning, which requires further research properly to understand. Overall, my research demonstrates that Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America devoid ideological leaning and it confirms that social assistance is at the top of the agenda of Latin American governments.  

The paper is a useful reference for those interested in knowing about the Latin American Left and social assistance programmes in the region. I made a complete review of the adoption of the programmes along the region contextualizing the coming to power of the president who adopt it.  Even though, some programmes have been transformed with the change of governments, this paper can be a helpful introduction to Conditional Cash transfers in Latin America.