Accepted paper:

The role of transnational non-state actors in Chilean democracy: the NED, WOLA and Freedom House and the 1988 plebiscite


Mara Sankey (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will examine the role of transnational civil society in democratic transition in Chile using the role of three US-based NGOs in the 1988 plebiscite as a case study.

Paper long abstract:

The 1988 plebiscite in Chile was a key step on the road to democratic transition. This paper will examine the role played by three US-based organisations in the plebiscite: the NED, the Washington Office on Latin America and Freedom House. Although the NED's activities in Chile have often been discussed, they have rarely been subjected to critical examination. Drawing on my archival research into its work - and the lesser studied activities of WOLA and Freedom House, I will compare the impact these organisations had, not only on the plebiscite and the process of transition, but also on official US policy towards Chile. The three organisations engaged in diverse projects during this period: the NED channelled money to various sectors of Chilean political and civil society; WOLA lobbied and provided educational materials to Congress and other non-state actors in Washington; and Freedom House provided briefings to Congress and other foreign policy-makers. They were also operating from very different positions in relation to official policy-making: the NED acted virtually as an implementer of US foreign policy while the other two organisations were more marginalised, albeit in different contexts -- WOLA in the Washington foreign policy community and Freedom House in Chile. This paper will highlight how these varied positions affected the organisations' levels of understanding of the Chilean political situation and their capacity to work with local actors. Moreover, I hope to draw some wider conclusions about the role of transnational civil society in democratic transitions in Latin America.

panel P01
On the shores of liberal democracy: exploring the reshaping of the community in the context of post-liberal governments in Latin America