Cannon Active Citizenship in Central America: creating alliances between local government,

Dr Barry Cannon1
Active Citizenship in Central America: creating alliances between local government,
civil society organisations and universities in the poorest regions of Nicaragua, El
Salvador and Honduras.
Research carried out by:
Universidad Católica, (UNICAH), Honduras. Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), El
Salvador. Universidad Autonoma De Nicaragua, (Procomin-UNAN), Nicaragua.
Regional study coordinated and condensed by:
Centre for International Studies, Dublin City University, (DCU/CIS), Ireland. Instituto para
la investigación social y la incidencia, (IISI), Honduras.
The Active Citizenship Project in Central America, which began running in July 2006,
arose out of the need for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have evidence based
research to support their lobbying efforts with government. It is also based on identifying
Universities in the region as a resource for Civil Society in the region with capabilities
that have not been fully explored, and that are ready to contribute by getting involved in
structured research.
A further motivation behind the running of the Active Citizenship Project was the need to
foster networking amongst CSOs in the region, especially in the context of the Central
American Free Trade Agreement (commonly known as CAFTA-DR), between the United
States and the Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic, and the ongoing
negotiations between the European Union and the Central America countries on a free
trade association. A fundamental motivation behind the project in this context therefore is
to strengthen closer relations between Universities and CSOs on a regional basis.
One of the main weaknesses identified in creating such links was a lack of research
capacity within universities and CSOs. Most research taking place in the region is
directed by the needs of large international cooperation organisations and not on the
priorities of local organisations and the universities themselves. This research takes place
through consultancies, providing little continuity in research agendas for the universities;
preventing them building up expertise in particular fields. Consequently, along with other
factors, this limits to an extent the role universities can play in national public life a
disadvantage that stands out among the acute social, environmental, economic and
political problems that Central American society faces. However, CSOs see Universities
as crucial strategic allies in their efforts to participate in the processes of the creation and
transformation of public policies.
There are six institutions and organisations involved in the Project Active Citizenship in
Central America: four universities, UNICAH from Honduras, UCA from El Salvador,
PROCOMIN-UNAN from Nicaragua and DCU/CIS from Ireland, and two CSOs, Red de
Desarrollo Sostenible (RDS-HN) and IISI from Honduras. As part of a long running
cooperation agreement between Irish Aid and the universities, the latter have been
providing a diploma in NGO management to local CSOs in the region. This has been
judged a success by the partners and NGOs involved as well as Irish Aid and collectively
it was decided that the possibility of providing a similar type Diploma to local
government in the region should be researched. Consequently, it was decided that some
basic research should be carried out in a limited number of municipalities in the poorest
regions of the three countries in order to identify the training needs of the Local Councils,
with a view to creating a potential Diploma in Municipal management, targeted at
municipal experts and civil servants, with the aims of improving their capacity for
lobbying, leadership and promoting resources for local development. Furthermore, it was
decided that the research project would be carried out by UNICAH in Honduras, UCA in
El Salvador and PROCOMIN in Nicaragua, in shared coordination with DCU and IISI, in
order to help build capacity for research within those institutions.
The following conditions were set for the research:
1) Focus on the role that Universities can play in supporting Local Councils so they can
promote development in their local areas;
2) Identify ways in which Universities, Local Councils and CSOs can work together for
local development;
3) Identify means to establish cooperation between Universities and CSOs in the context
of regionalisation;
4) Carry out the work within areas where Irish Aid has built up relationships, preferably
with CSOs funded by Irish Aid;
5) Actively consult CSOs working in the areas of research, draw up terms of reference
(TOR) and an action plan and agree on how to cooperate in the implementation of the
research, and,
6) Ensure equal status between CSOs and the Universities in research development and
II. Research purpose
The purpose of the study was to identify local requirements that Universities can fulfil in
order to optimise CSO lobbying impact in activities directed at Local Councils, as well as
those carried out in partnership between CSOs and Local Councils towards the State,
with an aim to aid local development.
III. Products, goals and objectives
Among the products, objectives and general goals set were the following:
1) Revise issues on local development in recent literature per country and in Central
America as a whole;
2) Develop Terms of Reference and Research plans, per country, agreed by the University
and the chosen CSOs in the selected regions;
3) Choose, in agreement with these CSOs, three municipal areas of high priority, having
in mind the criteria mentioned above;
4) Interview at least three key experts on the issue, members of organisations and
international cooperation agencies, by country;
5) Identify, interview and maintain contact with at least three representatives from CSOs
working in each of the selected municipal areas;
6) Identify, interview and maintain contact with at least one municipal elected
representative (preferably the mayor) and two key municipal civil servants in each
selected area;
7) Draw up a national report, circulate it among the interviewees and adjust it by adding
their comments and remarks. The report should include conclusions; suggestions on the
role that Universities can play to support Municipalities and CSOs in local development;
and suggested indicators to check objectively the efficiency of these measures, if taken;
8) Draw up a regional report, publish it and circulate it through a regional event and other
means, among municipal communities, international cooperation, CSOs and Universities.
IV. Methodology
It was proposed the research be carried out as follows:
Bibliographic review: each university revises relevant bibliography, related to local
development in Central America and on best international practice. The review should
establish the research basis, and should be supported by interviews with a small
number of experts on local development that have been consulted;
Identification of methodology to gather and analyse the primary information: the
tools for research should emerge from the bibliographic review and should focus on
the object of study. Interviewing is the main instrument used to gather primary
information, so an interview guide, an interview application guide and a report
writing guide were developed. In this way quality, reliability and comparison of the
information were to be guaranteed as much as possible;
Identification of people to interview: each university identifies, in the selected
Municipalities and in agreement with the CSOs, at least three municipal civil servants
and three key people involved in the decision making of each municipality.
Information acquired helps to analyse the following issues:
 Ways in which the Universities can support Local Councils in their training
needs. This is based on information about: training received by the employees
and municipal representatives; who provides the training; benefits and
difficulties of the training; training requirements by areas; the role played by
Universities in this training; difficulties of access to training; obstacles to
undertaking actions related to government phases, phases of proselytism and
effects of these variables in the relations between municipal civil servants and
the CSOs and the citizenship – patronage systems and others.
 Ways in which Universities and CSOs can improve their cooperation by
supporting the Local Councils. This emerges from investigating the existing
cooperation between Universities and CSOs in supporting Local Councils;
how this cooperation works; how to improve it; other ways of cooperation that
could be introduced; how to organise and implement better this cooperation.
The double role of the Local Council as actors is taken into account: they
demand scarce resources and public policies of the State; and the CSOs and
the general public demand resources and public policies of them.
 Carrying out tasks of local development. The main development tasks of the
Local Councils are investigated and analysed; how they are carried out and
with whom; how the Universities can support the Municipalities when
carrying them out and what the challenges in their performance are.
 Lobbying issues. The difficulties for the Local Councils in communicating
with the central government should be investigated and analysed. Poverty
Reduction Stratgies (PRS) implications for the Local Councils; ways in which
municipal participation improves PRS; ways in which Universities can support
the Municipalities to have an influence on public order and to fulfil their role
in the PRS;
 Research: What is the value of the research for the Municipalities? How can it
be used to improve the perspectives of local development? How can the
research affect the PRE? How the Universities could provide better support to
the Municipalities through the research?
 Analysis of the information. The compiled information to be analysed, and the
national report drawn up. IISI and DCU assess the conclusions and summarize
them in a regional report, with the support of and in consultation with the
V. Coordination in carrying out of the research by country and the main findings
The selection of Municipalities was organised by shortlisting those that presented the
established conditions for the study: those with the greatest level of poverty, focussing on
the Poverty Reduction Strategies of central governments and located in areas where Irish
Aid works through cooperation with CSOs.
Later on, the Universities began a relationship with the CSOs present in those
Municipalities and together they selected the definitive Municipalities involved in the
research. In Honduras, the Municipalities selected were: Naranjito, from the Department
of Santa Bárbara; Gracias and Lepaera, both from the Department of Copán. In El
Salvador, Municipalities of Torola and Guatajiagua, from the Department of Morazán,
and Cuisahuat, from Sonsonete, were selected. In Nicaragua, the Municipalities selected
were Esquipulas, San Dionisio and San Ramón, all of them are from the Department of
In Honduras, UNICAH coordinated with CSOs from the selection of the Municipalities
to the collection of primary information, in the Municipalities of Naranjito and Lempira,
with the Organismo Cristiano de Desarrollo Integral de Honduras (OCDIH); in the
Municipality of Gracias, with the Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales
(ASONOG); and in the Municipality of Santa Rita, with Comité de Acción Social
Menonita (CASM). In El Salvador, for the Municipalities of Torola and Guatajiagua,
UCA carried out the research in consultation with Fundación Segundo Montes; and in the
Municipality of Cuisnahuat, with the Asociación El Bálsamo. In Nicaragua,
PROCOMIN-UNAN coordinated in Esquipulas with the following CSOs: Cooperativa de
Taxis Señor de Esquipulas (COTAERL), Cooperativa Agropecuaria Crédito y Servicio
(CAES), Organización de Desarrollo Municipal Rural (ODESAR) and BANCENTRO; in
the Municipality of San Dionisio, PROCOMIN-UNAN coordinated with Casa Materna
and Programa Campesino a Campesino; and in the Municipality of San Ramón with
Centro de Servicios en Salud y Medio Ambiente, CESESMA.
The main tasks in local development for the Local Councils studied were: In Honduras,
activities related to education, health, infrastructure, roads, drinking water and basic
sanitation, production and electrification. In El Salvador, the same issues along with
environmental activities; while in the Municipalities of Nicaragua health and education
are excluded for being considered issues concerning the Central Government exclusively;
budget management and implementation of Taxpayer Law are identified as main tasks
The main findings of the research are as follows:
 Local Councils do coordinate with CSOs and, indeed, there is much valuable
experience in the coordination of actions for local development. The types of
CSOs with which Local Councils studied coordinate their main activities of
local development are: in Honduras international NGOs, NGOs involving
different committees, community development groups and academic
communities have been identified; in El Salvador, while CSOs do coordinate
with Local Councils, these were not identified; in Nicaragua, NGO’s such as
ODESAR, HUMBOLT, POPOLVUH, Operación milagro and Medicus
Mundi, among others, have been identified.
 Local Councils do have the chance to access resources from external
cooperation, in most cases, however, indirectly, through central government.
The use of these resources is not set locally, due to the institutional
weaknesses of the Local Councils, including incipient coordination with the
CSOs. Regarding current Municipal Administration and its relation with
International Cooperation, it has been identified that there are financial
development workers who are providing technical support for the different
areas of work of the Local Councils. In Honduras, their identity has not been
revealed; in El Salvador, AECI, JICA, USAID and GTZ have been identified,
and in Nicaragua the presence of Catalana, SABADEL and MASNOU has
been identified, supporting social projects, such as dining halls for children
and schools.
 Regarding tasks of local development, there is little University presence in the
Municipalities studied. It seems that their involvement is achieved more
through relations between CSOs and Universities than because of the initiative
of the Universities or the Local Councils. Regarding Cooperation agreements
between Local Councils and Universities, it has been found that, either there
are no agreements or there is no record of the agreement, as in the case of
 However the presence of the CSOs in the Municipalities studied is wide and of
a diverse nature; there is, however, little evidence of formal cooperation
agreements between CSOs and Local Councils, except in one case in
Honduras, between the Local Council of Naranjito and OCDIH, for training,
municipal management and environment, risk management and gender
Relations between CSOs and Universities regarding local development actions in the
Municipalities studied are not yet very significant, but it is encouraging to identify
that they are emerging and strengthening. The study did find CSOs and Universities
in the Municipalities, working on local development, as is the case of ASONOG, in
Honduras, which signed collaboration agreements with UNAH-CUROC for
professional training, by implementing the Planning and Development Masters. There
are also cooperation agreements for the development of the Municipalities, through
training and strengthening local departments, and in the area of research. Similarly
FOSDEH, in Honduras has signed cooperation agreements for professional training
 Although the shortage of resources is the first difficulty identified, it is not the
only limit to promoting local development processes in these Municipalities.
Regarding the main difficulties that Municipalities face in implementing their
local development tasks it has been identified, in addition to the lack of
economic recourses, the lack of logistical support from Central Government,
the lack of qualified staff to design and implement projects and specialised
jobs, the lack of technical tools and equipment, and even the bad condition of
the rural roads have been identified as difficulties in implementing local
development projects.
 Given that the selected Municipalities studied are among those with indicators
of greatest poverty and exclusion within their countries, it would be expected
that the focus and implementation of the programmes and projects in the PRS
frame were reflected in concrete local development activities. However, that
is not the case. Regarding the PRS, and relations between Central
Government and Local Councils within them, the findings in Honduras and El
Salvador and Nicaragua differ greatly due to the fundamental differences in
the type of PRS in those three countries.
In Honduras difficulties of communication with the Central Government have been
identified, there is an excess of bureaucracy, the PRS is not well structured, and it is
limited to a payments - submission of reports system, which forces local governments
to pay for the projects before getting the funding from central government. It is also
considered that the difficulties the PRS has in achieving development in the
Municipalities lie in the fact that the PRS doesn’t tackle poverty directly, there are few
resources allocated according to the level of needs, and processing work is very slow.
Furthermore, there is a lack of planning, links between PRS objectives and projects are
not clear, there is a lack of qualified staff and the PRS is managed at Central
Government level with little decentralisation to the Municipality.
In El Salvador, research shows that none of the Municipalities have a defined strategy
for the reduction of poverty or with operative plans addressing this issue. And,
similarly, the Municipalities in Nicaragua do not have a PRS emerging from the
Central Government; although the previous Government designed a National Plan for
Development, the current Government has not continued with it.
 Despite growing expectations around the PRS, it doesn’t seem that the
difficulties that Local Councils face, regarding access to their funds and the
implementation of respective projects, can be avoided without the active
participation of CSOs and the support of the Universities in the short to
medium term. In this way, among the mechanisms required for the PRS to
contribute more and better to local development are the following suggestions:
to start from municipal strategic planning that allows the development of the
potential of the municipalities and its involvement to the requirements of the
environment; that technical capacities be developed in local governments;
more resources be allocated to poorer Municipalities; technical assistance be
provided to develop and implement projects; more time be given for
implementing projects; CSO active participation taken into consideration; that
there be transparency in the accounts; payments be made quickly, with simple
and straight-forward procedures, and with only one payment; PRS be
decentralised, among others.
The requirements of local councils from the universities are as follows:
1. Training and capacity building, both at university level and technical training, in
the following areas: strategic planning; budget design and implementation;
municipal management; management of resources; tax and financial
administration; policy impact; organisation and social leadership; design,
monitoring and evaluation of productive, forest and environmental projects and
their impact, municipal legislation: regional planning, environmental legislation,
tax and other legislations; production, productivity and agricultural processes,
among others.
2. Research is required in socio-economic issues; design of strategies and local
development policies; development potentialities at a municipal level;
identification of the most vulnerable sectors and options for development;
management of micro basins; migrants and remittances; promotion and
development of tourism; biodiversity; productive practices and agricultural
productivity; local economic development with a gender perspective and its link
to PRS; protection of vital elements –water, forest, air; economic investment,
social and environmental projects; auriferous studies; marketing studies in the
food sector in order to produce better basic grains and milk; revision and update
of municipal ordinances appropriate to the economic reality of the municipality.
3. Technical support is required in financial and municipal tax administration, tax
collection, auditing, project design and evaluation; municipal management and
leadership; agricultural production and production techniques; for irrigation
projects in the low lying area; in productive work and planning productivity;
preventive medicine; measurement of environmental impact; for the design of
content of training needed and evaluation of results; for the recovery of
portfolios, implementation of law in national and international cooperation
management; in programmes of distance learning and partial attendance, among
III. Conclusions and recommendations
 Local development is a comprehensive process in which the living conditions of
all the people in society improve in a sustainable way, materially as well as
socially, culturally and politically. The living conditions of most of the people
who live in the Municipalities studied in this research show that in these
Municipalities the implementation of local development processes is still very
incipient or has not started.
 Local Councils have limited economic resources and suffer severe institutional
weaknesses that do not allow them to develop projects that could impact
positively in the reduction of poverty in the Municipalities studied, and even less
to implement projects or programmes targeted at local development.
 Local development processes, as an alternative to fighting poverty and the
deterioration of human, natural, economic and social resources, involve
collaboration, coordination and commitment from every actor present in the
Municipalities; in other words, that there is participation from the CSOs and
agreement between the Local Councils and the CSOs.
 These processes need the development of training and capacitation processes,
research and technical support directed at implementing and developing better
planning, management and management-administrative practices, the same as
development and strengthening of management, implementation and leadership
capacities in the CSOs and the Local Councils.
 Local Councils are completely aware that, in order to optimise their local
development actions, they need to improve their qualities to plan strategically, to
administrate, to manage and to implement local development processes. They are
also prepared to coordinate actions of institutional strengthening, education and
training that are needed, with the CSOs and the Universities.
 Though the number of national and international bodies present and working in
the Municipalities studied that are involved in local development processes in
coordination with the Local Councils are limited, it is clear that this needs to
develop in the future. The CSOs, which generate social changes for the
comprehensive development of the Municipalities, are responsible for
coordinating with the Local Councils and the Universities the actions needed to
ensure that local development starts from the perspective and interests of the
communities in the Municipalities.
 There is a clear need to formalise through cooperation agreements the
relationship between Local Councils, the Universities and the CSOs, in order to
implement the programmes and projects needed for education and training,
technical support and research in the different areas: social, economic,
environmental, cultural and political, with strategic vision, for local development.
The research includes the following recommendations about the role that the Universities
could play to support the Local Councils and the CSOs in local development:
 Formalisation of cooperation agreements between Universities, Local Councils
and CSOs. In the agreements the partners, in their respective and very well
specified duties and responsibilities, commit to designing and implementing
programmes and projects of formation and training, research and technical
support, with strategic vision, for the local development of each municipality.
 Involvement of Universities in the Executive Committees which issue the
strategic lines of development in municipalities, with full consensus between the
Local Councils and the CSOs.
 Design and implementation by Universities, in close consultation with the Local
Councils and the CSOs, training and educational development programmes as
well technical support programmes, in issues identified as priorities for optimising
local development processes. In general, these are: strategic planning,
administrative and management systems, design of feasibility, marketing and
agricultural commercialisation studies, and studies in forest management, tourism
and in small business; provision of facilitators in strategic planning, management
and lobbying, among other issues.
 Identification and development by Universities in close consultation with the
respective Local Councils and the CSOs of each municipal area, of research
agendas on the priority issues for local development in each municipality. Among
these issues are strategic planning, implementation of management administrative
systems, design of diagnosis, feasibility, marketing and commercialization
studies, issues for lobbying and policy promotion that affect local development.
 That the Universities create degrees, diplomas and postgraduate courses with easy
access for leaders, technicians, managers and local civil servants and CSOs. The
issues must be those prioritised for strengthening the institutions, for the
development and strengthening of capacities for planning, management,
administration and local and business direction, supervision and measurement of
the impact of projects and programmes, and lobbying on public policies, among