Moving Beyond Representation: Participatory Democracy and Communal Councils in Venezuela

We traveled to Venezuela to learn about a more substantive form of democracy based on the values of inclusion and participation that has emerged during the last decade. This new model, referred to as participatory democracy, utilizes local entities of self-governance to allocate decision-making power and resources to the people themselves.


As two
college students living and studying in the United States, we have long been
frustrated and discouraged by the limiting representative democracy seen by the
U.S. government and media as the only viable form of democracy. We traveled to
Venezuela to learn about a more substantive form of democracy based on the
values of inclusion and participation that has emerged during the last decade.
This new model, referred to as participatory democracy, utilizes local entities
of self-governance to allocate decision-making power and resources to the
people themselves. While the U.S. system of representative democracy works to
undermine true democratic values through excluding those without capital,
participatory democracy goes beyond elections to place the power of the
government and the country's resources directly in the hands of the people. We
drew upon research and our personal experiences in Venezuela to make this
exciting new form of democracy accessible to the people of the United States.

The United
States prides itself on being a democracy, but what does that mean? Democracy
is a term that can be used to describe a form of political representation or
used as a justification for military intervention abroad. It is a term with
countless definitions and understandings worldwide that that can mean anything
from checking a box every four years to widespread participation in societal
change and self-governance. The United States subscribes to a liberal,
representative form of democracy, one that was created with numerous
"safeguards" meant to prevent true popular control over the government. This
allowed the elite governing class to maintain power and control while pacifying
an entire electorate (at the time of the ratification of the constitution this
meant white male landowners). These "safeguards," though some have been
modified, were never removed, and continue to prevent true citizen
participation in their own government.[1]

electoral college is the most problematic of these safeguards, implemented to
distance the electorate from the electoral process by having them vote on
electors rather than representatives. It continues to hinder true democracy.
The candidate who wins the greatest number of electoral votes does not
necessarily have a popular majority, as seen in the 2000 US presidential
election where the Supreme Court, rather than the citizens, chose George W.
Bush over Al Gore. And who chose the Supreme Court? The President of the United
States. Gore won the popular vote, meaning the American people cast more votes
for him, but their voices were ignored and their votes were discarded because
Bush "won" the electoral college. Was that democracy? The electoral college
continues to rely on electors to vote for the president, and while electors are
strongly encouraged to go with their states decision, they are not legally
bound to and occasionally defy their state's decision.[2] There is an absolute
lack of accountability.

Again, is
this democracy?

each state receives a number of electors that represents the number of citizens
plus their two senators, voters in small states have approximately 60% more
power and influence than those in large states.[3] This merely serves to
amplify the power that small states have in the senate, where Rhode Island has
the same amount of power and influence as California. In addition, because all
electoral votes go to the candidate that wins the majority in any given state,
over 90 percent of campaign money, time and resources as well as party
platforms cater to the 15 "swing states" or states in which polls have not
already predicted a guaranteed outcome. In other, predetermined states,
opposition votes are not counted in the electoral college, and have no bearing
over the presidential election results.[4] This has lead to widespread
disillusionment with the system and abstention from the electoral process,
perhaps accounting for the low voter turnout in the U.S.

the US claims to be a pluralist system, there is no place for third parties.
Third party candidates are scorned by the two major parties for "taking away"
their votes. Those on the left, especially those in swing states, feel
tremendous pressure to choose the more progressive of the two major parties
rather than voting for who truly represents their views. The dominance of the
two party system creates a narrow ideological range of debate, with the two
parties representing nearly ideological values. In our current system, this two
party dominance seems to be inescapable, furthering the rates of disillusionment
and abstention.

representative democracy functions to represent transnational corporations and
their economic interests more than those of citizens. Individuals running for
office rely on the contributions of corporations to cover enormous campaign costs.
Based on this sponsorship corporations can expect politicians to represent
their interests. Corporate lobbies are another form of this interest and
undermine the power and influence of citizens.[5]

politicians are voted upon by citizens (or the electors in electoral college
presidential elections), they end up accountable to corporations, not the
people. If a public official is not living up to their campaign promises and is
failing to represent the interests of their constituencies, there is no way for
citizens to revoke their power.[6]

Not only
is our representative democracy held captive by the interests of capitalism and
corporate interests in the United States, but we are exporting the same model
of "democracy" abroad to further global economic control.[7]

While the
corporate voice is heard loud and clear in our representative democratic
systems, citizens are increasingly excluded. For example, as an 18-year old
college freshman eager to participate in our democratic system for the first
time, I filled out a voter registration card at my college orientation. The day
before election day, nearly two months after I had filled out the registration
card, I received a letter saying the paper I had filled out had been a copy,
and therefore was invalid. Then the next year I went to the polls with my voter
registration card, birth certificate, driver's license, and student ID. I was
told I could not vote because, although I was a registered voter in the state
of Ohio and attended a 100% residential college, I did not have "proof of
residence." This is just one experience, but it demonstrates the larger problem
that elections are not facilitated to honor peoples' right to vote.

So what is
the solution? How can democracy function in a way that truly involves citizens
and builds inclusive popular participation and governance from the bottom up
rather than the top down?

democracy is a model that is becoming increasingly popular in Latin America,
taking many different forms in the region. This form of democracy relies on the
abilities of the people and creates a system that emphasizes the importance of
direct and active involvement of citizens in political structures.

While in
Venezuela, we experienced a unique new form of participatory democracy that has
been created and implemented successfully in the last ten years. Venezuela had
previously been functioning under a representative governing model, directly
imported from the United States. Like in the US, participation in politics was
very limited, with high abstention rates, predominately among the poor and
working classes, who at the time made up 70% of the nation's population. A
strongly limiting two-party system was in place for over 40 years before
Chavez's election in 1998.

The first
formal step towards participatory democracy was the re-drafting of the
Venezuelan constitution in 1999. This progressive document, was both written
and ratified by the citizens themselves. The constitution outlines the new
system of participatory democracy, giving a number of rights to citizens which
had never had before. Reasoning for the move to a participatory democratic
system is quoted below:

regulation [in favor of participatory democracy] responds to a felt aspiration
of organized civil society that strives to change the political culture, which
so many decades of state paternalism and the dominance of party heads generated
that hindered the development of democratic values. In this sense,
participation is not limited to electoral processes, since the need for
intervention of the people is recognized in the processes of formation,
formulation, and execution of public policy, which would result in the
overcoming of the governability deficits that have affected our political
system due to the lack of harmony between state and society. To conceive public
administration as a process which a fluid communication between governed and
the people is established, implies a modification of the orientation of
state-society relations, so as to return to the latter its legitimate

With the
constitution of 1999, Venezuelans now have the right of popular recall of
elected officials and the power to amend the constitution by popular vote.
Civil society is now included, with decision-making power, in all levels of
government. For the first time the constitution also stated that access to all
levels of education, comprehensive healthcare, and meaningful participation in
government and media are basic human rights rather than privileges based on
one's resources, and the state has the responsibility to ensure that those
basic human rights were met.[9]

A host of
social programs, most famously the misiones, or social "missions" followed the
constitutional revision to bring the language of these rights to fruition. The
programs are seen as meeting constitutional rights rather than providing
charity, and are centered around participation and empowerment. Because of
this, the social programs have truly worked to equalize society rather than
divide it.[10] By addressing the fact that survival rights and economy
stability are a prerequisite to truly participating in government and
democracy, the misiones laid the framework for participatory democracy.

efforts by the national government help to make horizontal decision-making part
of popular culture. For example there has been widespread promotion of
cooperatives, co- and self-management of factories, student and workers'
councils. This has begun to create a mental and cultural shift in which people
are beginning to see themselves as active participants in governing rather than
governed people.

One of the
most exciting and accessible examples of participatory democracy are
Venezuela's communal councils. These are community or popular assemblies. In
2006, the Organic Law of Communal Councils was passed to help communities form
and fund these governing assemblies, constituting a new move towards localized
grassroots government. The goal? To give the decision making power to those who
know the community best. This moves beyond electing people to make decisions
about a community and instead gives control to the community itself. People can
use their own experiential knowledge to identify and solve the problems in
their community.[11]

This new
law was an effort to solidify popular power as part of the country's governing
structure and to address corrupt and inadequate local authorities. Local
governments, like mayorships, were not distributing funds to areas needing them
the most, especially rural areas. They also oversaw intensely corrupt law
enforcement agencies that were contributing significantly to crime rates in the

councils do not replace mayorships but act as a parallel local governing
system, where community members horizontally and directly participate in local
decision-making. The most important part of the councils is that funds bypass
regional and local governments, going directly to council projects. In 2007,
only a year after the communal council law was passed, five billion dollars was
funneled into councils directly from the national government without
interference of local governments.[12] This exemplifies the re-directing of
state funding, taking money out of the hands of governors and mayors, placing
into the hands of the people themselves. In 2007, 30% of money allotted for
local governments went directly to communal councils, and the National Assembly
has proposed to increase this number to 50%.[13]

On a
structural level, the councils, or popular assemblies themselves are made up of
200-400 households in metropolitan districts, 20 households in rural districts,
and 10 households in indigenous districts. In an effort to avoid hierarchy and
domination, the Law of Communal Councils allocated all decision-making power to
these all-inclusive popular assemblies. Anyone can attend assembly meetings,
and all members above the age of 15 share equal decision- making power. Over
20% of the eligible community residents must be present in order for decisions
to be binding.[14]

communal councils are organized into comités, or work groups around certain
issues affecting the community like clean water, sanitation, housing, etc. Many
of these comités actually pre-date the existence of communal councils, having
previously been set up to democratize the work of the social misiones within
communities. The communal council also incorporates a financial committee, the
banco comunal, who manages the financial resources of the council. An oversight
committee, the contraloria social, documents and legalizes all decisions made
by the council and provides oversight to the financial committee to ensure that
the money allocated follows the legal framework, avoiding corruption.[15]

comité has elected voceros and voceras, or spokespeople, expected to attend
each meeting or assembly, and speak on behalf of the comité or, in the case of
larger assemblies, the community's popular assembly. A vocero acts as a
point-person for projects but they do not have extra decision-making power; all
decisions are made in assembly form by popular vote. Voceros of a communal council
meet periodically in assemblies with voceros from other councils in their
sector. These larger popular assemblies, called comunas, give the opportunity
for numerous councils to identify similar issues and do large-scale local and
regional projects. Because a comuna contains several communal councils,
together they have a greater capacity to keep local government systems in check
and unify neighboring communities than a communal council itself.[16]

What does
this look like in practice? We had a number of experiences during our stay in
Venezuela related to communal councils and participatory democracy. We'd like
to share some of these experiences in story form to help paint a better picture
of what this system means and how it affects real people. These stories are from four different communities; Pueblo Nuevo, La
Guajira, Palo Verde and La Paroquia San Juan.

Nuevo (Katie Bowen)

walk here", they said to me, "this isn't your place", the first time I got
anywhere near barrio Pueblo Nuevo. The word barrio can mean a lot of different
things. Directly translated, it means neighborhood, but in Venezuela, barrio
usually refers to the poorer areas of town, slum communities, where people
build their homes from scrap materials, whatever they can find. I was living in
Merida at the time, a colonial city at the base of the Andes, full of
opposition to the revolution and adventure tourists. I could see the barrio
under the bridge when I'd take the bus downtown from my house. For Venezuela,
it was strange for the barrio to be right downtown, usually they keep to the
outskirts. The next time I visited was on a tour to the ECOs community radio
station of the barrio, an old school that the residents had taken over and
begun broadcasting low frequency news, for the community, by the community. As
part of a country-wide movement of the revolution, community media a response
to the corporate control of the nation's media. The station had a time slot
reserved for the communal council's show every Monday night.

councils were new for this community. After only a year, they had organized
themselves around issues that were affecting the barrio the most. They had
previously been neglected by the state and corrupt local governments, and money
had been spent in more viable areas of town. Now the community itself was
organizing to meet their own needs. It was difficult for a number of reasons.
The barrio had no culture of political participation after being marginalized
for so long. Most of the residents had known each other their whole lives. Not
everyone had the same opinions or values, and making collective decisions with
family and neighbors was hard. The communal council had been working to pave
the streets and allow for public transportation in that part of the city. They
fought for clean, accessible water, for a sewage system in the barrio, to fix
broken electricity lines, and improvements within in the local school to help
keep children out of gangs and off drugs, a major issue in Pueblo Nuevo and
surrounding barrios.

the community was learning to organize at the grassroots level. Sometimes, they
didn't need to turn to the national government for support, realizing they
could meet some collective needs for themselves. They kept having trouble with
the drainage for the street. After some unsuccessful bouts with the city
government, they got together with supplies and tools they already had and
fixed it themselves.

A central
issue in the community was drug trafficking, and, very much related, gangs. The
school system was the worst in the city, and because of the lack of resources
there were not many options for young people.

"One of
the biggest problems is the destruction of families. Lots of kids grow up
without a father, or without a mother. Violence in the home happens a lot.
Imagine having five children in a tiny space, and no economic resources. Often times,
the response is violence, for example, to a child who makes a big mess. What
happens then? The school that the children go to is also very very bad. Realistically,
the most concrete life that they have is one of gangs and dealing drugs. It's
the most real, most tangible. We are trying to work with children of this age.
This neighborhood doesn't have young people because they have died or left.
These children, they end up in gangs and don't care about anybody" -Miguel,
resident and communal council member.[17]

communal council of Pueblo Nuevo has focused much of their energy to organizing
around these issues because they affect the community very deeply. Underneath
the radio station they had created a small library and study space for
students. Here, students from the university in Merida come to do
service-learning, helping kids with homework, tutoring, mentoring and playing
sports. They started a soccer team, with over 50 children who play in the
community space, sometimes whose parents don't even know their kids are
interested in sports. The communal council also started movie nights, for
students to have exposure to documentaries and information, and to give space
outside of the home or streets for recreation. School students have started
making their own documentaries, about their lives in the barrio and issues that
are related to them. These short films are shown before the main movies, for people
who connect to them the most. Another project in process is the idea for a
"casa de ciencias", or little science building, where kids can come to learn
computer-literacy and have access to science-related material.

The radio
program helps to spread awareness about the communal council and their
projects. They make announcements to the community, discuss local issues, and
even make public statements to the local government.

I went to
the station with a friend to observe one of the council's shows. It was called
"la voz del consejo comunal", or voice of the communal council. The program
started by addressing the city's mayor. "Please give us water", they said, "all
that comes from the faucet are tiny droplets. There are 800 families who live
here and we haven't had water for 15 days. Please send public transportation
down our streets. You said it was because they weren't paved, so we've paved
them. We live in the city too and need to get around like everyone else. Look
in the newspaper, people from the community are dying because they receive bad
treatment from the city's clinic. Give our school more money, we have 80
children in one classroom and our students in 5th grant can't even read".[18]

Their next
message was a call to the community. The elections were coming up for an
amendment to the constitution. They began analyzing democracy, taking it apart,
reflecting on the differences between an active, participatory democracy and a
representative one. They were urging people to vote, still new for people in the
barrios, but then saying voting wasn't enough. It was a call to the community
to take action, not just to wear red shirts and spit socialist propaganda, but
to take an active role in building the community, building a new society based
on the collective, based on justice. This is essentially what communal councils
do, what democracy should be.

La Guajira (Caitlin McNulty)

communal council I visited was located in the state of Táchira, Venezuela on
Wayuu indigenous lands. I interviewed a woman named Angela, who had
participated in the communal council since its formation in 2007 and was
currently serving as a vocera. Angela explained to me that in the beginning,
her communal council focused on meeting the basic needs of those in the
community by building upon the misiones that had already existed. Their first
project was the construction of thirteen new homes for families who lived in
housing that was determined to be inadequate. This was followed by the
formation of a community kitchen which provides free lunch and a community day
care. A Barrio Adentro clinic which provided free comprehensive healthcare had
already been established, along with adult basic education programs. The
communal council made the decision that the next pressing need was the
preservation of Wayuu culture, language, and traditions. Many felt that the
local primary school was causing youth to become disconnected from their roots,
partially because it failed to teach Wayunike, their indigenous language.

much organization, advocacy, and hard work, the community formed one of the
first indigenous primary schools in Venezuela which instructs students in both
Spanish and Wayunike, requires traditional Wayuu dress for uniforms, and
actively involves community elders in the teaching process to foster
intergenerational connections. The school also shares a building and works in
collaboration with Paraguaipoa, the first indigenous community radio station in
Venezuela. The school has two weekly radio programs in which students create
their own shows. When Angela spoke of the impact the school, completed in early
2008, on the community, a tear rolled down her cheek. "My granddaughter now
speaks with her friends in Wayunike," she said; "children now see traditional
dress as normal and are surrounded by people reaffirming the importance of
their own culture. It has strengthened our community and our families."[19]

than depending upon the municipal governments, in which indigenous and low
income communities are largely underrepresented, to dictate the priorities of
any given community, communal councils ensure egalitarian ideals. Angela
explains "For so long, we suffered because the government did not care about
us, our security, our roads, our schools. Now, we decide what is important."[20]
Although all people deserve the right to local autonomy and self-governance
over matters that directly affect their communities, the right to
self-governance and autonomy is especially important for indigenous communities
whose culture and traditions are often in conflict with conventional structures
of governance. In an attempt to respect the culture and autonomy of indigenous
groups, the communal council law exempts them from the normal structural
regulations. This ability to self-govern in communal councils, along with the
right of autodemarcation of indigenous lands (the ability of indigenous peoples
to use traditional knowledge to determine boundaries on tribal lands)
guaranteed in the 1999 constitution, is beginning to provide the autonomy the
indigenous nations of Venezuela deserve. Jose Miranda, vocero for the Wayuu
community La Guajira states that; "Because we are indigenous, we have a right
to our culture, our principles, our values and our origins and the ability to
protect those ourselves is urgent. We are beginning the process of regaining
control and resisting manipulation though the councils".[21]

The right
to self-governance and autonomy on a local level is guaranteed to all
communities in Venezuela. In addition to fostering community dialogue,
cohesion, and organization, the councils are beginning to provide space and
structure for cooperation among communities.

Palo Verde (Katie Bowen)

They were
so proud. "Did you see the houses? Everyone would ask. They had just finished
the basic construction of sixteen new homes for the community. They had done it
themselves. It was a small community, a little neighborhood, on the edge of a
town of about 3,000. It was the poorer side of town. They really needed the
houses. Young people would start families of their own, but continue to live in
the homes of their parents due to lack of resources. Sometimes it was
grandparents' homes, if their parents had done the same thing a generation
before. Almost everyone was related, somehow, most worked seasonal jobs,
planting and harvesting potatoes. Many hadn't finished grade school.

community council assemblies met outside, next to someone's house on the top of
the hill. I counted almost 70 people there once, sitting on milk crates with
half-naked children running everywhere, chasing the stray dogs. They were
almost a year deep into their first project, building the homes. As a
community, they were much more organized than other sectors of town, perhaps
because of a greater necessity to meet their basic needs.

They had
organized to receive funding for the homes. Sixteen homes had been built with
the resources for only fourteen. The community had purchased tools, materials,
and the services of a local engineer to help with the design and building. The
rest they took care of themselves, to stretch the resources further and ensure
the job was being done well. Houses went up in no time. Every time I walked
through that part of town I'd see people working, laying roves, installing
windows, painting the houses in bright colors. They met quite often to discuss
the project as a group, almost once a week. Everybody worked, women, children,
men, people of the community who weren't even receiving new homes.

Having a
communal council had changed the community. Not only by providing homes, but
impacting the community in much more subtle, non-physical ways. First of all,
neighbors were beginning to get to know each other, to work with each other and
make decisions and agreements that would be good for everyone. There was a feeling
of connectedness in the community, one that hadn't been there before. A lot of
validation was also involved. Finally, people could do something bigger,
something for themselves. They could, together, identify common needs and
actually change them, meet them, together. Dreams, plans were already being
made for new projects they could work on, after the houses were finished. They
knew they could pave the road entering the neighborhood, build a community
space for meetings, tools and projects. They wanted a school, close by, for
their children to attend, to learn things relevant to their community, to their

They could
have clean drinking water in their homes. All of these things were needed, but
the best part was, they were possible. Everyone knew it. Anyone could
participate, people who were illiterate, people who had never organized
anything, women who had barely left their own homes. The government had always
overlooked them. Now, they had the opportunity to participate directly in
politics, to have access to the vest wealth of a country which had neglected
them. Who could be better to make these decisions? Who else could have the
knowledge and experience to identify the needs of a community and how these
needs should be met? Development was happening, not just for their
neighborhood, but within in the people themselves. The national government was
giving resources, but with these resources also come power and validation of
people, of their struggles, their needs and their ability to organize to create
change that would affect them the most.

Paroquia San Juan (Caitlin McNulty)

In la
paroquia San Juan in the outskirts of Caracas, five communal councils came
together in a comuna to create a social enterprise. They created a market to
bring healthy fruits and vegetables to their community at low prices through
direct cooperation with farmers outside of the city. Eliminating intermediaries
and utilizing local production, this market fit into a nation-wide movement
towards endogenous development, the concept of increasing production for
domestic use though local control of production. In Venezuela endogenous
development is promoted to address the country's dependence on the exportation
of oil and importation of consumables, like food. Endogenous development also
allows communities to take control over their own production and consumption

The social
enterprise, the market, was jointly owned not by those who worked there, but by
the broader community made up of those five communal councils. The profits went
towards creating a space for community, one in which children could play and
people could organize. The sector's communal councils have worked towards this
project for two years, occupying the abandoned space below a large overpass
until the title was expropriated by the government, not uncommon given the
rights of the country's new constitution. Although these legal rights to land
takeovers and self-governance through communal councils, was accessible to all
citizens, it was the responsibility of the communities themselves to organize
and carry out these projects.

communal market was just the beginning; the comuna has since developed a
communal bakery and pharmacy, again with the goal of providing affordable
services to the community on a sliding income scale with all the profits
directly benefiting the communities. Other projects initiated by the comuna are
a community radio station as well as a collective space to watch media created
by the community because, as comuna member Elin Roja states; "the war is an
ideological one, fought with cameras not guns".[22] They have formed a "house
for grandparents" in which old people without family to care for them have the
support system they need. There is a comedor popular, a place in which community
members can eat incredibly cheaply, or free if they have few resources. There
is a school of community education where community members share what they know
most about in a popular education fashion, again, building community knowledge
and cohesion.

The idea
of a comuna is the next step in participatory democracy and co-governance;
creating a place where the people go beyond depending directly on the
government for all their funding. Where there is cooperation among co-governing
communities; where social enterprises are owned by, and meet the needs of, the
community. It is seen as the next step in sustaining the political process
begun in Venezuela. Because la comunidad San Juan sustains all their projects
through social enterprises, they are not dependent upon the government. It is a
new form of organization and support, one that can last through different
political systems, through international financial crisis, etc. Roja sums up
the importance of their organizing:

"We have
created all this ourselves. Chávez created the framework, but we used our own
hands, our own sweat, and minds, and organizing to make this happen. This is
our community, created and governed by ourselves. We have changed the
consciousness of those who lived here, showing them through our actions how
much the values of solidarity and compassion can do for the community. I have
faith that all communities can create this network of cooperation and we can
make the next level of government participatory, that eventually we can make
all the levels of government reflect the needs of the people. We are all
members of our own communities but this has brought us together. It has
broadened our struggle, but also our system of support and solidarity."[23]


through participatory democracy and communal councils, is revolutionizing the
meaning of the state, taking what used to be reserved for the elites of society
and allowing all to participate and share in the wealth and power they are
entitled to.[24] For the first time, the vast wealth of the country is reaching
the majority of the people, people who need it the most. This doesn't come in
the form of handouts. In Venezuela, basic human rights are constitutional
rights. The national government is giving resources, but with these resources
comes power, the power to make collective decisions, identify and address
problems affecting people the most.

councils empower people and communities, positively changing the way in which
people view their identities and roles in society. Because community members
are carrying out the projects for their own communities, projects that will
benefit their families, friends and themselves, each has a triple benefit. Not
only does each project itself benefit the community, it reduces unemployment as
local labor is utilized, and ensures excellent quality because the workers are
creating meaningful projects they care about and are deeply invested in. The
councils foster cohesion and empowerment as communities decide what needs to be
addressed and work together to bring the projects to fruition.

councils function especially to empower women, often the majority of active
council members. Due to the feminization of poverty, women are often most
affected by issues surrounding the lack of resources, as they are culturally
responsible for caring for not just themselves but also their families. The
councils give an opportunity for women to directly become active in their own
communities' economic and governing systems, allowing them to create systems which
ensure everyone's needs are met. Prior, there were few opportunities for women
to engage in community organizing outside the home.

benefit of communal councils is their ability to function as a centralized,
truly representative body for the community. This is useful in a number of
ways. Community schools under the new Bolivarian curriculum, for example, work
with the communal councils to develop service-learning projects that benefit
communities and give students the opportunity to learn about and address local
issues. Venezuela's misiones, utilize the cohesion of the councils to further
the local democratization of these social projects originally addressed by
singular community comittees. For example, Barrio Adentro doctors can simply go
to the communal council for collaboration in address public health issues
specific to the community or sector. Local law enforcement can also work with
the councils in whatever way the communities choose. This could be anything
from collaboration for workshops on self-esteem or drugs in schools, to
allowing and supporting a community to form its own way of governing and
protecting itself.[25]

the councils play an important role in addressing local governmental
corruption. Communities no longer need to depend upon municipal governments
that have worked to systematically exclude them because of their lack of
resources. A community has the ability to dictate their priorities as a
collective whole, rather than through a few privileged voices, resulting in
projects that genuinely reflect the needs of the community rather than the
interests of the representatives. Communities have the power to fix problems
themselves, a power which is changing community consciousness.

There are
over 40,000 communal councils across the nation.[26] This number is growing
rapidly as societal consciousness and values in Venezuela change through the
process and strong local, grassroots movements are, for the first time being
incorporated into the country's leadership. This process is not easy. Like all
transitions to horizontal group decision-making structures, communal councils
have their fair share of struggles and opportunities to learn from doing
collective work.

movement that this collective work is forming, however, is stunning. Every
single person is included, and communities have the power to form change
effecting them the most. It is the constitutional right of citizens to directly
participate not only in their country's governing system but also in a
peaceful, people-centered, truly democratic revolution that affects the entire

The stark
contrast between Venezuela's participatory democracy and our own esteemed form
of "democracy" in the United States acts as both a wake-up call to citizens in
our country to define for ourselves what true democracy is, but also serves as
a source for inspiration and examination, as a lived example of what a more
substantive democracy looks like.

Katie and Caitlin are students at the Evergreen
State College in Olympia, Washington. They recently spent three months studying
in Venezuela with Evergreen's academic program Building Economic and Social


[1] Zinn,
Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial,

[2] United
States Constitution

[3] Zinn,
Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial,

[4] United
States. Office of the Federal Registrar. US National Archives and Records
Administration. US Electoral College. 27 May 2009

[5] Zinn,
Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial,

[6] United
States Constitution

[7] Zinn,
Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial,

Chapter 4, section 1 ("on political rights"), paragraphs 3 and 4 of the
Exposition of Motives of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela (CMRV). **

[9] Venezuela. Constitución de la República
Bolivariana de Venezuela. Caracas: Gaceta Oficial, 1999.

Wilpert, Gregory. "Venezuela's New Constitution." Venezuela Analysis
27 Aug. 2003. 27 May 2009 <http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/70>.

United States Constitution

Wilpert, Gregory. Changing Venezuela The History and Policies of the Chavez
Government. New York: Verso, 2006.

Wilpert, Gregory. Changing Venezuela The History and Policies of the Chavez
Government. New York: Verso, 2006.

[14] Venezuela. Ministerio de comunicacion e
informacion. Ley de los consejos comunales. Caracas: Colleccion textos
legislativos, 2006.

[15] Venezuela. Ministerio de comunicacion e
informacion. Ley de los consejos comunales. Caracas: Colleccion textos
legislativos, 2006.

[16] Venezuela. Ministerio de comunicacion e
informacion. Ley de los consejos comunales. Caracas: Colleccion textos
legislativos, 2006.

[17] Miguel. "Consejo Comunal en Pueblo Nuevo."
Personal interview. 11 Feb. 2009.

[18] Radio Program, "La Voz del Consejo Comunal", ECOs
Radio. 15 Feb.2009.**

[19] Hernandez, Angela. "Los Consejos
Comunales." Personal interview. 3 Feb. 2009

[20] Hernandez, Angela. "Los Consejos
Comunales." Personal interview. 3 Feb. 2009

[21] Miranda, Jose. "Consejos Comunales."
Personal interview. 1 Feb. 2009.

[22] Roja, Elin. "La democracia participativa y
comunas." Personal interview. 9 Feb. 2009.

[23] Roja, Elin. "La democracia participativa y
comunas." Personal interview. 9 Feb. 2009.

[24] Venezuela. Ministerio de comunicacion e
informacion. Ley de los consejos comunales. Caracas: Colleccion textos
legislativos, 2006.

[25] Venezuela. Ministerio de comunicacion e
informacion. Ley de los consejos comunales. Caracas: Colleccion textos legislativos, 2006.

Wilpert, Gregory. Changing Venezuela The History and Policies of the Chavez
Government. New York: Verso, 2006.