Debating New Democratic Experiences of Andean Governments on Their Own Terms

By Fabricio Pereira da Silva

The new approaches to democracy formulated in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have often been hastily condemned, based on hegemonic “elitist” or “procedural” approaches to democratic theory. A counter-hegemonic approach based on participatory theories of democracy could be more adequate for understanding these governments. There is no universal conception of democracy and also no institutional canon (either real or ideal) that one cannot either reject, or broaden, or reform. While I do not subscribe to extreme relativism, I believe that the a-historical or Eurocentric perspectives which are common in the political science literature must be avoided. Here I note the reflections of Boaventura de Sousa Santos and Leonardo Avritzer (2009) concerning “demodiversity,” the idea that there is a plurality of democratic experiments around the world, which, like biodiversity, must be studied, recorded, and fostered. Democracies must always be treated in the plural – never in the singular.

In discussing the three present cases in terms of participatory theories, I will refer to reflections that have been put forward by the actors themselves – regarding the processes in which they are immersed and which they are at the same time conducting – and also to reflections from perspectives that shift away from the “Western” paradigm. For example, to what extent do the participatory theories fit the conception of “communitarian democracy” advanced by indigenous actors and movements?

I begin by reviewing the literature on participation, highlighting some of its main claims. In the second section, I will summarize the visions of democracy developed by the main actors of this process – leaders, parties/movements, “organic” intellectuals and supporting social organizations – and embodied in newly produced legislation. Lastly, I shall contrast the legislation with the visions, exploring points of contact, dialogue, gaps and contradictions.

Participation: a counter-hegemonic and poly-semantic notion

The currently hegemonic democratic theories are “elitist.” That is, the selection of elites is at the core of their conception of democracy, which insists on the impossibility of overcoming the dichotomy between those governed and those governing. The hypothesis that the democracy of the ancients could contribute and be mixed into the democracy of the moderns started to gain traction in the second half of the 20th century. Gabriel Vitullo (2012) outlines three theoretical strands that question hegemonic reflections on democracy:

Participationism: According to this strand, democracy is more a kind of society than it is a political system. This approach calls for extending democracy to other realms, such as the family, school, the work environment, and the armed forces. It conceives participation as a good per se, capable of leading to self-development and the reduction of social inequality. Within this strand Vitullo situates authors such as C.B. Macpherson, Carole Pateman, Peter Bachrach, and Robert Dahl.

Deliberationism: This strand emphasizes deliberation and consensus, placing a high emphasis on the public expression of values and the permanent exchange of reasons by means of a dialogic and critical process, which in theory lead, if not to consensus, at least to a sense of collective interests, to better informed individuals, and to new (and better) solutions. Examples are the formulations of Jürgen Habermas and his idea of dialogue in a reinvigorated public sphere. Other authors include James Bohman, Joshua Cohen and Bernard Manin. This has been the most prominent strand in the last decades.

Civic republicanism: Here Vitullo groups together authors such as Hannah Arendt, Benjamin Barber and Sheldon Wolin, all of whom champion a return to the democratic practices of classical civil life, conferring a central role upon “active citizenship in a republic.” This approach emphasizes a more enriching, profound and active form of citizenship – “authentic human fulfillment is only possible when the individual becomes a citizen and acts in a free, self-governed community” (Vitullo 2012: 88) – with values such as “common good,” “civic virtue” and “communitarian spirit.” In sum, it seeks to revive the Aristotelian notions of man as political animal (which is only complete in the polis), of active liberty (as self-government) and the primacy of the political and the public.

These strands all imply an enhancement of popular participation. In the present discussion, however, I have in mind above all the first strand. The participatory democracy literature itself (not to mention the hegemonic literature) is at times keen to point out the central problems of participation in modern societies (among others). These are:

1) Participation can only occur at the local level, in micro-local settings, and is not amenable to debates and decisions at the regional, national and transnational levels. It is argued that most contemporary states are too large or too populous for direct democracy to work, and that the complexity of the issues of modern life requires the intervention of experts.

2) Citizens can be apathetic, as reflected in the low turnout in institutions designed for participation, which in turn is explained by a) the negative trade-off between the high cost of participation and the low outcomes extracted and b) the long and fixed duration of the mandates of representatives.

3) Inequality – whether socioeconomic, ethnic, gender or other – imposes limits and imbalances for true participation, rendering participants and their arguments equal only in theory, as some groups participate less and are less listened to for varying reasons (educational, organizational, symbolic, communicative, lack of time, and so on). This presents itself as a problem for participationists but goes largely ignored by deliberationists (as it undermines their arguments).

4) How to deal with minorities? The participationists’ literature goes back and forth between two extremes: from pluralism as per Dahl – proposing to aggregate the largest possible number of individual and group preferences, several minorities constituting, even if momentarily, a majority – to perspectives that assert the viability of something approaching consensus (a “general will”). The role and the relationship with minorities take on distinct traits at each of the extremes: there are either only minorities, which are fluid and ever-changing, or, at the opposite end, minorities are formed but are defeated in argument. Behind this problem, whether or not realized by the participation literature, lie certain insurmountable conflicts, which no amount of deliberation and rational argumentation can overcome. This brings us to the new problem.

5) There is something one could call the “black box” of the means of production, meaning the obstacles faced by those who would like to bring participation and democracy into the world of labor, an attempt viewed by many thinkers as unnecessary and unproductive. More than a problem, it is often a taboo. This explains the profusion of proposals and experiments based on territory and system of governance and transparency, contrasting with the low number of arguments favorable to experiments in the self-management of enterprises (whether private or even public). To face the subject of the democratization of production/property implies a decisive step: from moderate proposals for the reduction of social inequality to a direct confrontation with class structure.

New participatory formulations in Andean experience

The hegemonic notion of democracy has been put to the test by the discourses and experiments carried out by the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. At the level of discourse, they call for a “participatory,” “protagonist,” “revolutionary,” or “communitarian” democracy, complementing or even overcoming the electoral moment and its institutions. The three governments and the forces that support them present “heterodox” notions of democracy, in which representation is associated with several conceptions of participation, direct deliberation, communitarianism and popular power. Theoretical and practical experimentation are anchored in the formation of these governments as alternatives to the organic crisis their countries are undergoing, of which one of the main expressions has been the crisis of political systems and specifically of representation – meaning the so-called “traditional” political parties and politicians. They seek to break with democracy as it exists – “false,” “oligarchic,” “antinational” democracy – and replace it with “more democracy,” a “profound,” “participatory,” “protagonist,” “direct,” and “true” democracy.

Thus the environment has been favorable to proposals that hope to overcome the mediations between the government and the governed, which often translate into the absence of mediation between the leader and the masses (as in the campaign motto: “Chávez is the people”) – perhaps the main reason these governments are accused of “populism.” Rouquié (2011) calls attention to the majoritarian temptation of these governments, which are “strictly democratic,” but which, “in the name of the principle of majority rule, or of national interests, take liberties with judicial rules and constitutional precepts” (266). Furthermore, these governments can be characterized by the “personalization of power, a direct, unmediated relationship with the people … [whose] president wields ‘meta-institutional’ power, given that he is above institutions. If democratic by nature, he is ‘absolute’ in his practices, meaning that he is exempt from laws as this is what the ‘people’ wishes” (228). In this sense, it is possible to observe that, regarding problem 4 of participation mentioned above (“how to deal with minorities”), in this case, the majority clearly prevails over the protection of minorities on every political issue, and over institutions of horizontal accountability such as the Parliament

How do these new approaches depart from liberal institutionality? Often the majority is associated with “popular sovereignty,” the homeland, the nation as a whole, or autochthonous nations within the national territory – excluding “anti-patriotism,” the “oligarchy” and particular interests (understood as “corporate” and “petty”). These arguments are often imbued with communitarian, essentialist or organicist perspectives, rather than a class-based perspective. Conflict among classes is acknowledged, yet it is considered extraneous (to the people or nation) or is delegitimized (treated as being “divisive”) by these new governments.

Beyond the common traits, each case must be observed in terms of its specificities. In Venezuela, there is an emphasis on Rousseauan-style popular sovereignty (the quest for a “true democracy” based on the expression of a “general will”), articulated in terms of the legacy of Simón Bolívar (see Pereira da Silva 2013). Chavismo values especially the “protagonist role” of the people, the initiative of the sovereign. The idea is to bring about a “democratic revolution,” a “revolution through the vote.” As noted by Ellner (2012), “the Venezuelan model is based on the tradition of radical democracy whose origins are found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his defense of the mandate of the majorities and direct participation in decision making” (108).

After 2005, with increasing emphasis on “21st-century socialism,” there is a heightened insistence upon “direct,” “grassroots,” “protagonist,” “real,” “true,” “complete” democracy, meaning overcoming more than complementing representative democracy. Chávez would call this “the central axis of socialism in the field of politics, democracy from the bottom-to-the-top, from within, full-fledged democracy” (quoted, Wilpert 2009: 293). The institutional framework to support these changes is the system of Communal Councils (Consejos Comunales – CC), micro-local social base organizations defined territorially and forming communes, which in turn form federations and communal confederations in a pyramid-shaped structure that combines direct democracy at the grassroots level with delegation at higher levels, very close to the council-based tradition (as in the model defended by Macpherson 2012).

One can notice here, if not a turnaround, an addition to the democratic discourse of the Bolivarian Revolution: the suggestion that there must be a transition from “democratic revolution” to “revolutionary democracy.” As Chávez stated in 2005, “We enter this new phase, that of revolutionary democracy, which is not the same as ‘democratic revolution,’ the concept and orientation differ [the former implies liberation, the latter is conservative], taken from a deep consideration of the revolutionary thinking of Simón Bolívar and from many other universal currents, from all times and many places” (quoted, Biardeau 2009: 80).

Revolutionary democracy is at times associated with socialist democracy: “consolidation of participatory and protagonist democracy leads to socialist democracy, as the political form of Bolivarian Socialism” (PSUV 2010: 89). The central values of participation and popular protagonism are thus now linked to socialism (Pereira da Silva 2013). Socialist democracy “is nothing other than the consolidation of popular power.” Once again, what can be observed is an accumulation of meanings – a shift that, although entailing contradictions, does not constitute a break.

In the case of Bolivia, the goal of the “government for social movements” is to develop a “communitarian democracy of consensus and participation, based on social and economic content. This democracy must rely upon political mechanisms that serve as a channel between the government and all popular sectors” (MAS 2004: 22, my italics). Zegada et. al, in their analysis of the communitarian democracy that “truly exists” in several Bolivian communities, state:

It is not ruled according to hegemonic characteristics; there are some minimum common elements to its functioning: deliberated consensus through assemblies that act as the ultimate collective authority; rotation and mandatory service in authority functions; conceptions of authority as service rather than as privilege; mandate revocation, social control, an accountability system, and control of representatives and authorities (2011: 165-166).

The idea of communitarian democracy must complement or, in a more radical version, overcome “formal” democracy. Among the many versions formulated, one that interests us especially can be found in the proposals presented to the Constitutional Assembly by the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (Unified Confederation of Bolivian Peasant Workers – CSUTCB) and by the Bartolina Sisa Confederation of indigenous peasant women (Confederación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas Indígenas Originarias de Bolivia “Bartolina Sisa” – CNMCIOB-BS), social organizations related to the Movement toward Socialism (Movimiento al SocialismoMAS) that constitute, so to speak, the “hard core” of the government’s political and social support base. According to the CSUTCB, communitarian democracy ought to be founded upon “respect, consultation, consensus and participation,” and aggregate democratic mechanisms for indigenous peoples, such as rotation in posts, the notion of authority as service, and the comprehension that power is not domination but social cohesion. For their part, the “Bartolinas” of Cochabamba proposed “the following mechanisms of communitarian and deliberative democracy: a) communitarian: ‘elections and social controls of authorities by Communitarian Assemblies, several forms of self-government and communitarian self-administration’ and b) deliberative: ‘to dialogue, to recognize the opinion of different sectors and take decisions by consensus’” (Zegada et al. 2011: 105, italics in the original text).

However, going beyond the communitarian and consensual element,

Here, conceptions of democracy overlap and mix. As in the 1952 revolution, the new Bolivia prefers democratization to democracy. Social content does not replace respect for institutional rule, but renders them relative, especially when by virtue of the logic of indigenous communities unanimity is the imperative and the opponent in the minority is called upon to abide, or face exclusion. Some conceptions go so far as to suggest that, as a social mechanism, mandatory rotation in public functions, as applied in the ‘autochthonous’ peoples and nations, would render parties and elections obsolete. The motto and formula ‘to rule by obeying’ sums up nicely this political culture, in which an imperative mandate is permanently submitted to decisions at the grassroots level (Rouquié 2011: 249).

In this sense, a plural conception of democracy was constructed preserving representative elements, fostering participation and defending the values of a “communitarian democracy” associated with ideas of collectivism, consensus through debate, “assemblyism” and cooperativism – all of which should be present in popular organizations and in local spaces of territorial autonomy, and should be recognized by the pluri-national State. The new Bolivian state effectively embraces a plural amalgam of participatory forms, with its main novelty being the element of communitarian democracy at the local level. Moreover, it established the norms of an “intercultural democracy” – recognizing “the existence of the original peasant indigenous peoples and nations and the intercultural Afro-Bolivian communities … and based on the complementarity of direct and participatory democracy, representative democracy and communitarian democracy” (Electoral Regime Act quoted, Colpari 2011: 5). However, as noted by Mayorga, “communitarian democracy does not debilitate liberal democracy, in that it enriches and strengthens its representative capacity without provoking dualisms in the political representation system, given that the system of norms and procedures unique to the indigenous peoples is limited to the selection of candidates, who are confirmed by the individual vote” (Mayorga 2011: 210).

As for the Ecuadoran case, what sets it apart is the value placed on active citizenship and republicanism and its attendant “virtues.” This is visible in Correa’s affirmation (paraphrasing Simón Rodríguez, Bolívar’s mentor) that “a nation without citizens is not a nation” (Correa 2007: 10). The idea of a “Citizen Revolution” is central: “the conception of change according to Correa’s philosophy is based on an anti- corporatist politics … which seeks to engage unorganized citizens and thereby engenders a series of conflicts and tensions with ‘organized society’” (Stefanoni 2012a: 216-217). This translates, for example, into a paradigmatic institution such as the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Oversight (Consejo de Participación Ciudadana y Control Social CPCCS), which heads a new branch of State power: the Function of Transparency and Social Oversight. Made up of volunteer citizens selected by public examination, it forms a Citizens Selection Council (Comisión Ciudadana de Selección – CCS) to select authorities previously nominated by the Parliament. The CCS has representatives from each of the five branches of power as well as two volunteer citizens selected by lot (one will serve as president; the other will have the tie-breaking vote).

Another striking feature is the recurrent idea of popular sovereignty and “active” and “responsible” citizen participation. Correa’s movement, Proud and Sovereign Homeland (Patria Altiva y Soberana, PAÍS), describes its own ascent to power as follows: “after 30 years of formal and truncated democracy…, the people of Ecuador rises once again to found anew full popular sovereignty in democratic decision-making” (PAÍS 2010: 9). In the same vein, Correa described his movement in his inaugural speech as “a handful of citizens who decided to break free from the groups who had held the fatherland hostage, and thus carry out a struggle for a Citizen Revolution” (2007: 1). The movement understands “direct participation of citizens as part of the definition of popular sovereignty” (32) and that “the state’s broad decision-making process should be the object of democratic, decentralized and transparent discussions through deliberative mechanisms and joint administration based on citizenship in its individual and collective form, yet without leaving room for the corporatization of public life” (16).

The preoccupation with avoiding “corporatization” is linked to suspicion regarding a “partyocracy” (the movement declares in writing its allegiance to non-organized citizenship over social organization and parties), as well as to the defense of a universalistic and republican – rather than class-based – conception of the “common good” (52). It is necessary to ensure that “in all citizenship activity, general interest must override the law of the strongest and de facto power” (13), and to defend “the common good and build a new State serving the general interest” (12).

In such a democracy, representatives must understand that it is citizens who give them their mandates (Correa 2007: 1). The Citizen Revolution requires active citizenship imbued with ethical and republican values. The “best men and women” must be at the service of the republic, “with their hands clean, their minds lucid and hearts aching for the Homeland,” directing the institutions of the State and eliminating “with their example and citizenship this nefarious evil [corruption]” (3). In sum, Correa’s speeches place a high value on the citizen – in the context of a universalistic (excluding the anti-patriotic oligarchies) approach to reality – whereas organizations are held in lower esteem.

Final considerations

Here I return to the three counter-hegemonic strands mentioned at the outset, seeking to identify overlapping among the three Andean countries.

Participationism: Factors such as the creation of a system of grassroots councils with delegations sent to higher bodies, the defense of democratization extending into the realms of production and education, the acknowledgment of the possibility of self-development, the insistence on “deep” democracy, immediately make it possible to associate the Venezuelan case with this set of proposals. The vision of democracy in the recent years of chavismo can be understood as a mix of participationist and socialist approaches to democracy. “Councilism” is an interesting precedent for this. Authors such as Martorano (2011) map the “council” tradition in socialist theory, from Marx’s defense in the Paris Commune, to the centrality of workers’ democracy in Gramsci and the organization of the proletariat in Luckács. This tradition arises in Venezuela after the so-called socialist turn in 2006. But there is an essential difference: the communal organization projected by the Bolivarian Revolution is based fundamentally on territory, not on place of work. It is compatible with traditional practice in that country during the last few decades, comprising neighborhood movements, urban property committees, water management, and so on. Here, the citizen/popular militant takes the lead and participates in the commune, neighborhood, electoral brigades, and, more recently, in parties. In this sense, “councilism” must be thought of beyond the socialist tradition. An author such as Macpherson (an anti-capitalist, but not a socialist in the classical sense) proposed a pyramid-shaped system based on local councils defined territorially that would delegate functions to higher representative bodies – while retaining a considerable amount of control (imperative mandates).

As mentioned, the subject of production is seldom broached by theories of democracy. Where it does come up is usually in participatory theories. Democratization for Pateman (1970) – and also in certain socialist and anarchist traditions – would advance with inroads in the workplace. Self-management (especially in industry and in enterprises owned by the Comunas) has recently become a leitmotiv of participation in Venezuela, but not in Bolivia or Ecuador.

Corporatist and sectoral bodies – unions and minority movements related to specific interests – have arisen in Bolivia, and this is not alien to the participationist tradition. One need only think of Dahl, or the corporativism of Hirst, who defends the adoption of semi-institutionalized corporatist mechanisms in connection with a pluralist state (reflecting greater social complexity and the need for more deliberation). Corporativistic representation of organized interests can strengthen democracy, in the sense of increasing popular influence over the government. In fact, there is a longstanding corporatist tradition in Bolivia (shown in the co-government of the 1952 Revolution or later in the peasant-military pact). However, after 2010, the government’s tolerance for sectorial organization has been diminishing appreciably, and sectorial initiatives have frequently been deemed to clash with the proceso de cambio, or the national interest (as in García Linera 2011).

Deliberationism: The emphasis on dialogue as a means to address social problems can be found in the communitarian democracy of Bolivia’s indigenous-peasant social movement. This has now been partly institutionalized, particularly at sub-national levels and in autonomous spaces. The communitarian conception of democracy stipulates the formation of consensus through public deliberation.

It is important not to draw an automatic link between Western theoretical formulations and the body of theory that considers itself “post-colonial” or “de-colonial.” The presence of non-Western elements in the formulation of communitarian democracy would explain the institutional limitations it has faced thus far. Zegada et al. (2011) suggest that representative and participatory institutions could complement one another in Bolivia. On the other hand, between communitarian and representative democracy “there is an epistemological rupture and compatibility becomes more critical given that for now communitarian government is stipulated only for local spaces, oriented towards the consolidation of indigenous autonomies” (195-196).

However, given these caveats, here I will (rather provocatively) consider the hegemonic ideologies of the Bolivian government as well as of its grassroots supporters as being thoroughly Western and modern (see Stefanoni 2012b). In this admixture of indigenous activism, socialism, and national-populism, the latter prevails. In this sense, the formulation of communitarian democracy developed by the various social actors (and included in the new Constitution) is more Western than it might initially seem. Its links to deliberationist thinking may therefore be weaker.

Civic republicanism: This notion views citizenship as coming into full fruition only in the res publica, the polis. It sees freedom as being expressed in public participation and deliberation; it calls for reviving public spaces and civic virtues. This strand is reflected in the proposals of Correa and his Citizen Revolution. The citizen-centered discourse of Correa is an attempt to adapt pre-modern practices of civic republicanism to modernity. In this sense, incongruous as it might seem, Arendt may be a useful reference. For her, there “should be no reason for us to mistake civil rights for political freedom, or to equate these preliminaries of civilized government with the very substance of a free republic. For political freedom, generally speaking, means the right ‘to be a participator in government’, or it means nothing” (Arendt 1990: 218). Participation can be understood as “activities of ‘expressing, discussing, and deciding’ which in a positive sense are the activities of freedom” (235). And no one can be deemed free without enjoying civic freedom, which means participating in politics and being integrated into the polis.

This ideal citizen in an ideal republic is a central element in the proposals of Correa, as well as in the conception of most of the participation mechanisms in Ecuador, based on citizens organized in networks, councils and assemblies at the grassroots level, and complemented by exemplary citizens/counselors like the CPCCS, responsible for encouraging participation, transparency, and civic virtue. A telling signal is removing certain appointments and controls from the purview of legislative and political parties, and transferring them to the “volunteer citizen.” When chance – the lot mechanism – is introduced in addition to republican values, these signs become even clearer. The mechanisms of participation in Ecuador privilege the activism of a previously depoliticized citizenship. Nonetheless, the imagined individual – contrary to what Correa’s leftist critics charge – is not exactly the one found in the liberal model. It is the active citizen in the polis, a republican, with civic virtues – in tune with the emphasis Correa has placed from the outset on ethics, the struggle against corruption, and the recovery of values. In sum, the citizen in Correa’s ideal Ecuador is a republican, not a liberal utilitarian. Both models can be criticized as ideal, abstract types. But it is important not to mistake the references that each one builds upon.

In conclusion, I refer back to the “problems of participation” discussed in the first section in order to make the following observations.

1) How can power be transferred to the local level? Local or micro-local power must have formal and informal mechanisms for controlling the national government, which “governs obeying.” The most institutionally structured case (with the greatest promise of empowerment) is that of Venezuela, where communal power is projected to assume a greater dimension in relation to the classical representative institutions at all levels. But the imagined pyramid-shaped structure is still far from completion, as the base lacks the top vertex. In the Ecuadoran case, there have already been moments of participation in national planning, both in the Executive by means of the activism of citizen representatives in the elaboration of development plans (such as the Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir), and in the creation of the Function of Transparency and Social Control and the structuring of the CPCCS. In Bolivia, in turn, participation occurs mostly through direct consultation with social organizations either informally (the most common way) or institutionally, through individual ministries.

In general, the three countries are developing popular decision-making (when existent) at the level of barrios (neighborhoods) and, at most, at the municipal level, while at the upper levels participation usually assumes a more consultative character closer to representation (through local leaderships or social organizations recognized by the governments). In this sense, these arenas of participation are far from overcoming the recurring shortcomings of the participatory mechanisms in transcending the local – which is perhaps the greatest challenge to the overall approach and also its weak point, where it is most vulnerable to critique by detractors.

2) The problem of political apathy is often ignored in these countries – as if it were hard to conceive that, given the chance, popular sovereignty would not express itself spontaneously, and if it does not it is only because of the entrenched tradition of delegation or “internal colonialism.” Be that as it may, there is recognition, especially in the Venezuelan CCs, that participation might face obstacles due to the old “liberal culture of the Third Republic, the partyocracy,” and that actors must first be empowered in order to become motivated. The CCs and the PSUV hence must act to form and inform the population, enhance and consolidate participation (including that of non-chavistas), just as the state must foster new values in the education system and build a wide-ranging network of higher “Bolivarian” education, for which the leader – especially when it was Chávez – takes on also a pedagogical role.

In Bolivia, there is an expectation that social organizations will participate, but any proposal originating from the more critical sectors is understood as “corporatist” and “anti-popular,” and in the Ecuadoran case, almost every proposal from organized groups is interpreted as corporatist. In Bolivia, indigenous movements now constituting a popular opposition like the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Eastern Bolivia (Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente Boliviano, CIDOB) are questioning government initiatives considered as “developmentalist” and “capitalist,” and the same occurs in Ecuador where the government faces opposition from popular sectors like the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conferación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, CONAIE). The two governments have great difficulty in accepting these popular oppositions, and seeks de-legitimize them. In this sense, one must consider the possibility that these regimes would benefit from a degree of popular apathy (the only government that constantly seems to promote participation is the Venezuelan one).

3) Inequalities in participation remain a problem. How can every citizen participate at the same level? Only in the definition of Bolivian “intercultural democracy” (with its “post-colonial” elements) is it possible to identify a concern to make room symbolically for distinct values, formations, languages and paradigms, in the attempt to guarantee spaces for the plurality contained in the country – emphasizing in this case the ethnic element and ignoring others, such as gender. The notions of citizen and popular sovereignty developed in Venezuela and Ecuador, in comparison, are more abstract and universalistic.

4) Regarding the problem of minorities, a majoritarian approach prevails. There are obvious majorities: “the people,” citizens, the poor, the Indigenous. There are, consequently, small minorities, at times acknowledged as such, yet at other times delegitimized and excluded at the level of discourse: the elite, the oligarchy, the bourgeoisie, the rich, the neoliberals, the partyocracy, the unpatriotic. While some aspects of this dichotomy are inherent to a society with class divisions, the problem is that these governments tend to apply the same logic of exclusion to minorities that emerge ​​from popular sectors (for example, on gender issues and sexuality).

5) Lastly, the issue that has been dubbed the “black box of production” has been approached only timidly in Venezuela. Slowly there have been new proposals and experiments in self-management in some of the enterprises that were converted into public enterprises and in some that are collectively owned by communes. As observed by Ellner, after 2006, “Chávez declared himself a ‘Marxist’” and for the first time insisted on the revolutionary role of the working class. As a result, the discourse became more focused on the main sites of production, yet without reducing the importance of territorial unity and, specifically, of the community” (2012: 130). We shall have to see how territory and class will factor into this equation.


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