LAC Main Seminar Series: Creative Construction: The Rise of Mass Infrastructure in Latin America

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The deadline to register is 26 February at 12 noon


Convener(s): Francesca Lessa, Maryhen Jimenez Morales and Andreza de Souza Santos

Speaker: Alisha Holland, Harvard University


Since 1990, spending on large infrastructure projects has increased across Latin America.  This trend is puzzling because it comes at a time of democratization and decentralization thought to hinder investment in long-run and spatially concentrated projects.  This talk explains the over-time growth in investment by highlighting the financialization of infrastructure.  Private sector involvement in infrastructure projects created a fiscal illusion in which the costs of infrastructure accrued off government balance sheets.  Politicians shifted the extremely high costs on to future governments. Private sector financing also resulted in an arena shift in which legislatures were cut out of budget decisions made primarily within finance ministries.  Presidents allocated or renegotiated infrastructure contracts to finance their campaigns, and only had to overcome constraints from the administrative state.  Qualitative evidence from Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador shows how changes in the model of building infrastructure help to explain the increase in level and project size over time, whereas campaign finance needs and bureaucratic hurdles shape individual country trajectories.

Alisha Holland is an Associate Professor (untenured) in the Government Department at Harvard University. Before joining the Harvard faculty, Alisha was an Assistant Professor in the Politics Department at Princeton University and a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She studies the comparative political economy of development with a focus on urban politics, social policy, and Latin America. Her book, Forbearance as Redistribution: The Politics of Informal Welfare in Latin America (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics), looks at the politics of enforcement against property law violations by the poor, such as squatting, street vending, and electricity theft. Her articles have appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Comparative Political Studies, Latin American Research Review, Perspectives on Politics, and World Politics. Alisha holds an A.B. from Princeton University (2007) and a Ph.D. from Harvard University (2014).