Latin American Studies

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The isolated Aysén region of Chilean Patagonia currently sits at the front lines of a heated national discussion regarding Chile’s energy future. The massive HidroAysén dam proposal seeks to develop the region’s hydroelectric potential through the creation of five mega-dams across two rivers, the Baker and the Pascua. While the project would provide substantial energy to the mines and cities of the north, it would also irrevocably change the river ecology and alter the lifestyles of local populations. During J-term, I used Mellon Grant funding to travel to Chile and conduct field research on the social and environmental impacts of the proposed dam project. I visited several of the proposed dam sites in Aysén and conducted interviews in both Aysén and Santiago with local residents, HidroAysén employees, politicians, and anti-dam campaigners. My project examines how competing claims over land use and development are addressed in the Chilean post-transitional political system.

Katie Siegner (author) and Kemi Fuentes-George (advisor)




Today, the Aysén region of Chilean Patagonia remains rooted to the land and its traditional ways of life. However, the HidroAysén dam proposal threatens the local ecology, landscapes, and lifestyles of this remote rural outpost, launching the region to the forefront of a heated debate over national development priorities. Formally announced in 2007, the transnationally owned project would consist of five large dams across two fast-flowing rivers in the northern Patagonia region, the Baker and the Pascua, and would be Chile’s leading domestic source of energy. Additionally, the proposal includes the construction of a 2,000-plus km transmission line in order to deliver the electricity generated by the hydroelectric power stations to the centers of consumption in the north-central regions. While a low-carbon solution to the country’s energy needs, the dams have engendered intense controversy regarding the environmental and social impacts of such a large-scale development project, illustrating the tension between competing visions of “sustainable” development.

Given Chile’s development trend, the highly concentrated urban centers in the Santiago area, and the extensive mining operations to the north, HidroAysén proponents claim that the project is essential to combat the country’s alleged energy crisis. At the same time, a strong and well-organized national resistance movement –– Patagonia Sin Represas –– has emerged, and has succeeded in reframing the debate around the dams in order to draw attention to the costs of the mega-project, as well as the more sustainable development alternatives that exist.

The HidroAysén controversy has broader implications than its immediate local and national contexts, as it highlights a central concern of the international environmental justice movement: often isolated or marginalized regions and communities are asked to pay the costs of development plans purported to benefit “the nation as a whole.” HidroAysén is most likely to benefit the powerful economic interests that control the energy and mining sectors, rather than the average Chilean citizen, an all-too-common trend in the history of neoliberalism and its relationship with resource-rich Latin American countries. Furthermore, the post-transitional Chilean political system lacks the institutional infrastructure to adequately address the concerns of the anti-dam campaign, as governmental decision-makers persistently undervalue citizen voice.

While the project remains stalled by political stalemate and the inexperienced court system attempts to deal with the competing claims of the two parties, HidroAysén has become an issue of international significance, as NGOs and environmental groups have rallied to protect the renowned Patagonian landscape and the bucolic lifestyle it supports. Global environmental movements are increasingly contesting the hegemony of the dominant, capitalist-driven development path and emphasizing the local impacts of its environmentally destructive practices: HidroAysén is a case in point. This paper seeks to analyze the dam proposal in all of its divisive dimensions, including the contrast between localized costs and purported national benefits, the power inequalities present between dam proponents and the opposition, and finally the choice between such mega-projects and development alternatives that are sustainable, low-impact, and socially just.


Brazil’s Bolsa Família program is a conditional cash transfer scheme that has been hailed for dramatically reducing poverty and inequality since its launch in 2003. Under the scheme, qualifying families receive a monthly stipend on the condition that they fulfill certain requirements in health and education. Although the Bolsa Família is a federal program, each of Brazil’s 5, 564 municipalities play an important role in its local implementation. Using a combination of regression analysis and four case studies from the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, this study evaluates the impact of local government capacity on beneficiaries’ health and education. I find that municipalities with higher administrative capacity – more developed collaboration across sectors and more competent staff – are likely to be more effective in implementing the BFP, as observed by higher monitoring rates. As a result, the percentage of beneficiaries who comply with the program’s health and education requirements is likely to be higher in these municipalities. The paper concludes that local governments are critical actors in the success of this program and calls for policymakers to build administrative capacity through a combination of incentives and regulations.



Researcher: Pui Shen Yoong

Advisors: Professor Jessica Teets (Political Science),

Professor John Maluccio (Economics)



Related Links

Bolsa Familia (in Portuguese)

The Nuts and Bolts of Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context 

Avoiding Governors: The Success of Bolsa Familia

Buying Out the Poor? Bolsa Familia & the 2010 Elections in Brazil


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Presentation Slides





This thesis presents the internal conflict in Peru from the perspective of the Peruvian peasantry in order to analyze and determine who joined, as well as the why they joined, including the various factors that may have motivated these people to join the Shining Path. Basing my analysis on a variety of individuals using the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s documents as well as other sources, I explore specific cases to determine the relationship between individual motivations and Sendero’s group cohesion. I stress that many of the motivating reasons and problems academics describe such as socio economic disparity, colonial and feudal legacies, racism towards the indigenous, and lack of state presence are still issues present in Peru making certain kinds of citizens susceptible to terrorism under alternative leadership. The state’s process of the dehumanization of terrorists and the lack of attention paid to their testimonies parallels the lack of interest in terrorist motivations. Furthermore, this thesis warns against the dangers of this process as it propagates the faulty idea that military intervention will solve this complex issue that continues to affect Peru’s security.


Thesis Advisors: Jeff Cason and Roberto Pareja
Mellon Grant Project Advisor: Enrique García

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Aaron Ebner (MPA ’11)

Tina Novero (MPA ’11)

Adam Stieglitz (MPA ’11)

Chui Archuleta

Danielle Johnson

Elsa Figueroa

Kat Gordon

Hilda Diaz

Brian Dean

Natalie Sherman

Elma Paulauskaite

Jeanne Amrein

Jessica Torres Pujols

Noelia González

Danny Gallant

Marina Savinovich

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Since 2009, Team Peru has sent two teams a year to Peru’s Sacred Valley where they collaborate with local leaders to initiate sustainable agriculture and health education projects. This summer, Team Peru will establish a permanent office in Cusco to maintain projects year round.

A MiddLab Project

Buying Out the Poor? Bolsa Familia and the 2010 Elections in Brazil

Learn more about Politics & Economics and Latin America at Middlebury College.

Hailed for reducing poverty and inequality in Brazil, the Bolsa Familia program (PBF) is the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world. Critics, however, have accused President Lula and his party of indirectly ‘buying’ the poor vote through the PBF. This research investigates the relationship between the PBF and the voting patterns of its recipients in the recent elections. Is the PBF an apolitical poverty reduction strategy? Does it influence the formation of political preferences? Based on interviews conducted in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, I focus on the beneficiaries’ own perception of the program, exploring the concepts of “ownership” and “clientelism” in social welfare.


Pui Shen Yoong

Svea Closser
Sponsor & Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology

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Brazilian Press Coverage

Dilma atinge 40% entre participantes do Bolsa Família

Dilma diz que quer ser ‘mãe à altura’ dos brasileiros

Antes das eleições CEF erra e paga Bolsa Família maior

Prefeita relata prática de angraiar votos para Lula com programa federal

Plínio quer quadruplicar beneficiarios do Bolsa Familia e reduzir tempo do auxilio

Em Pernambuco Lula defende o Bolsa Familia

Norma do governo distribuída a prefeitos diz que próximo gestor pode mudar regras do Bolsa Família

Para PSDB, PT faz terrorismo com mensagem sobre recadastramento do Bolsa Familia. Governo nega acusão

No radio Serra garante continuidade do Bolsa Familia, Dilma fala sobre PAC

Em Santa Catarina, Marina diz que não fará ‘aventuras econômicas’ se for eleita


Transformations in Argentine immigration and healthcare policy have collided to create a dynamic landscape of public health utilization in Buenos Aires. This study presents empirically grounded analysis of healthcare utilization in the wake of these policy changes by examining the spatial distribution of 841 patients receiving obstetric services at Hospital Rivadavia in 2009. Analysis carried out at both the individual level and aggregated by partido reveals patterns in both the relative utilization of public healthcare services by migrants compared to native Argentines as well as the spatial distribution of patients, and in particular, migrant patients. The results of this study suggest that utilization of public obstetric services at Hospital Rivadavia by migrants is significantly higher than that of native Argentines and finds the distribution of migrant patients to be spatially clustered. These results have important implications for future immigration policy and healthcare provision at municipal, national, and international scales.


Nora Hirozawa

Peter Nelson
Sponsor & Associate Professor of Geography

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A MiddLab Project

One Less, Una Menos: Students Working to End Human Trafficking

Learn more about the Public Administration program at the Monterey Institute.

One Less, Una Menos, a non-profit founded by Monterey Institute students, partners with organizations in the San Jose area to end human trafficking.Last semester a group of students in the Master of Public Administration program completed a case study of One Less, primarily addressing organizational sustainability in the young nonprofit start-up.


Adriana Taboada

Elizabeth Carlson-Bast

Johanna Lounsbury

Tahmina Karimova

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Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, has grown and thrived primarily through commerce. Often the most important kind of commerce in the city is informal buying and selling at unfixed prices in unfixed or temporary locations. Important aspects of Tapatían (Guadalajaran) culture are represented in the day-to-day activity of street vendors and tianguis (open-air markets). This presentation is adapted from a long-form essay (in Spanish), written during a semster on Middlebury’s program in Guadalajara.


J.P. Allen

Nicole Chance
Coordinator of International Programs & Sponsor

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Last January fifteen intrepid graduate students (aka Team Monterey 4) traveled to the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador to tackle agricultural, water access, and conservation issues. Visit the Equipo Monterey blog to explore their adventures searching for illicit turtle eggs at the local markets, or designing workshops for food producers to share knowledge and potential growth strategies.


Adele Negro
Program Directory and Language Faculty

Lucy Jodlowska
Communications and Outreach Coordinator

Robert Taggart
Logistics Coordinator

Amy Holste
Fundraising and Development Coordinator

Ryan Gonzalez
Recruitment and Applications Coordinator

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A high mortality of seeds and seedlings has been documented in areas of high conspecific adult density as a result of increased predation and disease. Although this phenomenon has received significant attention in the scientific literature, the long-term evolutionary and ecological impact of density-dependent seedling mortality remains poorly understood. The purpose of the present study is to determine the population-level impact of density-dependent seedling mortality on heavily exploited big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).


Chris Free

Matt Landis
Faculty Sponsor

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