Participative Democracy under Siege: A Conversation with Luis Britto García

A highly regarded Venezuelan intellectual reflects on the vicissitudes of the Bolivarian Process’ political model.

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Luis Britto García (Venezuelanalysis)
Luis Britto García (Venezuelanalysis)
By Cira Pascual Marquina – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Luis Britto García is Venezuela’s most highly regarded living writer. He has penned numerous plays, novels, historical works, essays, and film scripts, and is a keen political commentator. In this VA interview, Britto García contraposes the contradictory term “liberal democracy” with Chávez’s “participative and protagonic democracy.” He also talks about new legislation that threatens to interfere with Venezuela’s sovereignty.

First let’s focus on democracy, or rather “liberal democracy.” What is it really?

In political theory, the concepts of “democracy” and “liberalism” can actually have opposing characteristics, although many people confuse the two. Democracy is the government of the majority, and it should have no limits to its decision-making prerogatives. On the other hand, liberalism maintains that not even an absolute majority has the right to change or alter certain rights, including – first and foremost – the right to private property. The concept “liberal democracy” attempts to reconcile both principles, which is contradictory.

To go so far as to argue that not even 100% of the population of a country could carry out measures that affect the organization of property is to establish a true dictatorship of the owning class – and that is all done in the name of liberalism. It is not by chance that liberal or neoliberal ideology went hand in hand with some of the worst dictatorships in history, such as that of Pinochet in Chile, or those in Indonesia or Honduras.

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Mainstream media headlines (Archives)
Mainstream media headlines (Archives)

The mass media labels the Venezuelan government as “authoritarian,” “undemocratic,” and even “dictatorial.” According to mainstream criteria for evaluating democracies, is Venezuela less democratic than other countries?

I have never seen a government where democratic processes are as common as they are in Venezuela. In some twenty years we have had 25 elections; there is hardly a year without one!

We are also champions in other arenas such as freedom of opinion and the right to dissent. In fact, there is no other country in the world where it would be acceptable for a citizen to assume public functions by proclaiming himself “President,” collaborate with enemy powers and steal Venezuelan assets abroad, participate in a coup attempt and, despite all that, be allowed to enter and leave the country as if nothing had happened!

The only other self-proclaimed president in the continent, Jeanine Áñez [Bolivia], is in prison and on trial. I have written books demonstrating that the Venezuelan media get involved in coup attempts in complicity with foreign countries and yet nothing happens to them. There are countless examples of opposition media organs in Venezuela that do not comply with the standards of truth required by the Constitution, that go as far as calling for the violent overthrow of the elected government and for foreign intervention, and yet nothing happens to any of them. So one could say that the Venezuelan government is not only extremely democratic but also remarkably liberal!

The Bolivarian Process has been characterized by a conception of democracy which, without abandoning the principles of western (or so-called “liberal”) democracy, also goes beyond them. Can you tell us about Hugo Chávez’s efforts to expand popular democracy?

Chávez made democracy “participative” and “protagonic.” I think I can summarize this idea by saying that the concept of popular participation is not limited to electing officials or representatives every so often. Instead, democracy is expanded so that institutions such as referendums, social movements, communal organizations, and the right to demonstrate can influence the decision-making by those in power.

When Chávez was kidnapped during the [2002] coup, people filled the streets and brought him back to power. That is a good example of protagonic participation. Here is another example: some years ago I campaigned against a law that would have allowed rivers, lakes, and lagoons to be privatized. Chávez vetoed that law. In that case, the work of a single citizen contributed to rolling back a decisive project.

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President Nicolás Maduro promotes the Special Economic Zones project. (VTV)
President Nicolás Maduro promotes the Special Economic Zones project. (VTV)

A range of imperialist attacks, which include sanctions, have damaged the whole of Venezuelan society and also have political implications. Even the Bolivarian Process’s democratic project may have been affected. Could we say that the Special Economic Zones – a project that seems dear to the government these days – represent a setback in the popular democracy project?

You yourself can be the judge simply by reading the draft of the law: large areas of Venezuelan territory with strategic natural, touristic and other resources would be handed over to transnational capital. Venezuelan laws and courts would not have jurisdiction in the Special Economic Zones [henceforth SEZ], which goes against the Constitution and the nation’s sovereignty.

In accordance with [related] legislation, the Law for Regional Socioproductive Development [2014], any ecological, legal or labor concerns that conflict with the project [SEZs and alike] will cease to have any effect. This means that, as is the case in all special economic zones around the world, neither the rights of labor nor those of unions will be valid there.

The draft bill states that companies investing in the SEZ will not pay income taxes, value-added taxes or import and export duties. This goes against the constitutional principle of equality and flies in the face of the interests of the national treasury.

Additionally, the [Venezuelan] state must provide these businesses with public services and even infrastructure and communication routes free of charge. Finally, according to the Law for the Promotion and Protection of Foreign Investment [2019], the state might even provide them [the companies] with capital so that they can exploit us!

In short: we give them everything in return for nothing. All this is in the [SEZ] bill! I very much hope that the National Assembly deputies will read it carefully and act with patriotism.

In the face of the sanctions and the blockade, the government seems to have put the project of popular democracy on the back burner. Is that the only option in a situation such as ours? It seems that experiences such as El Maizal Commune or Che Guevara Commune – both of which propose the radical reorganization of politics and economy – demonstrate that popular democracy continues to be both viable and relevant.

It is very troubling that harmful businesses such as bingos, casinos and slot machine parlors are reopening and being promoted as if they were productive spaces. This goes against Chávez’s pronouncements and Jorge Rodríguez’s own actions [as Caracas mayor, he closed them].

I should also add that the prices of consumer goods are rising without the government intervening. All this is happening while salaries are not pegged [to the cost of living] to protect them from inflation.

Finally, as far as the communes are concerned, what is decisive for their success is that the revolution assigns them means of production so that they can produce. The communes that possess means of production work well. Those that do not become mere symbols. Chávez used to say: Commune or nothing! We should add that communes without means of production are almost nothing.

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Chavez’s “Commune or Nothing!” has become a battle cry for many in Venezuela. (Archives)
Chavez’s “Commune or Nothing!” has become a battle cry for many in Venezuela. (Archives)

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