The promise of transformation through participation: an analysis of communal councils in Caracas, Venezuela

The promise of transformation through participation: an analysis of communal councils in Caracas, Venezuela

The Hugo Chavez’s administration endorsed the creation of thousands of allegedly self-governing CCs in every neighbourhood of every city or town in the country. The initial goal was to address people’s most urgent needs while including them in the decision-making process in their communities. The passing of President Chavez, a charismatic leader who was the driving force behind Chavismo and the Bolivarian Revolution, represents a challenge to the participatory process where CCs have been framed. Within this overall context, a radical approach to participation should lay the foundations of a State-led process of social transformation of the left. Based on this, the objectives of this paper are: on the one hand, to propose a set of indicators to study spaces of participation at the community level framed in a State-led process of social transformation; on the other, to show the viability of these indicators in the analysis of Communal Councils in the context of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. These indicators refer to the recognition of ‘the other’; autonomy from state institutions; mobilization of the community; and design and internal dynamics.

In order to advance these objectives, this paper explores how participation in the CCs has been operationalized under the Bolivarian Revolution. Therefore, this research has empirically implemented the proposed indicators in six CCs of Caracas through semi-structure interviews with community leaders. The results suggest that the type of participation offered is one strongly conditioned by an ideological system which promises transformation but impedes this transformation in practice. The author has called this situation a ‘conditioned participation’.

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