Venezuela’s Communal Councils: Holding on During Dark Times


By Michael McCarthy and Jared Abbott*

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro walking with community leaders

Maduro in Protected Cultivation Homes of Quibor-Edo / Flicker / Artistic Commons /

Venezuela’s Communal Councils (Consejos Comunales), created in 2006, endure as an influential grassroots mechanism amid the nation’s cataclysmic financial despair and political disaster. More and more, their main operate seems to be serving to embattled President Nicolás Maduro’s ruling get together preserve loyalty amongst its declining base. Three components linked to Chavismo’s melding of get together and state have enabled the Councils to outlive amid radically modified circumstances: linking them to state-run meals distribution packages, giving them problem-solving performance, and constructing block-level group ties in Council-created areas.

  • Survey knowledge we collected in late 2018 demonstrates that participation in Councils has declined as assets have contracted, however the teams stay alive and effectively. Our ballot of greater than 1,078 Communal Council members revealed that a couple of third understand the Councils’ attain as remaining as robust as earlier than the financial slide accelerated 4 years in the past, whereas one other 13 % consider participation has even grown. Sixty-two % of respondents who reported ever taking part stated that they nonetheless did in 2018.
  • The Councils have been essential in minimizing main disturbances in widespread sectors over the previous 5 years by the position they’ve performed – in coordination with the Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP) – in distributing month-to-month meals packing containers to a big majority of the inhabitants. Not surprisingly, of all of the Councils’ thematic committees, meals committees are by far probably the most energetic. Council members reporting being energetic in a meals committee elevated from zero in 2009 to 20 % in 2018.
  • Our survey and interviews present that the Councils have been essential in sustaining the get together’s capability to mobilize its core supporters in key moments reminiscent of throughout extensively criticized elections that Maduro held in Might 2018. Our analysis additionally finds that the majority Councils should not essentially ideologically soaked areas of pro-regime habits, though many voters perceive them in extremely political phrases. Participation, whereas closely skewed towards Chavismo, displays the entire Venezuelan political spectrum and infrequently transcends partisan politics. Our survey reveals, furthermore, that over 60 % of Venezuelans reported as lately as final December that the Councils profit the entire neighborhood, not simply get together members. This sensible problem-solving dimension helps allow the Councils to retain comparatively broad assist amongst Venezuelan society.
  • Our survey outcomes counsel that the Councils are efficient in rising optimistic attitudes towards the federal government even within the absence of direct materials advantages. As an example, of those that reported that their opinion of the ruling get together improved since they started taking part in a Council, the overwhelming majority cited their improved social standing locally or elevated political efficacy, moderately than the receipt of fabric advantages by the Councils, as the explanation for his or her improved angle towards the get together.

The Councils have operated throughout three competing fashions: a “deepening democracy” mannequin targeted on increasing avenues of citizen participation inside the present political system; a utopian “twin energy” mannequin aimed toward changing the prevailing political system with a radical direct-democracy; and a “vanguardist” mannequin the place the councils function a direct instrument of the get together to mobilize and develop the electoral base. Whereas all three fashions performed an essential position through the early years of the Councils, the vanguard mannequin has lately outdated the others. Though nonetheless typically utilized by completely different get together factions to stimulate debate in regards to the authorities’s insurance policies and efficiency, the Councils’ position in consolidating a loyal base of supporters to resist the present interval of financial and political disaster has been rather more essential.

The Councils’ evolving relationship with the ruling Socialist Celebration raises critical questions on whether or not, as political and financial circumstances develop much less secure, participatory establishments just like the Councils open political areas for engagement and incorporation, or devolve right into a cynically deployed instrument of populist autocrats – with unsettling implications for the way forward for participatory democracy that some leftist events in Latin America advocate. Certainly, the Venezuela instance means that, when political and financial circumstances grow to be much less favorable for sustaining participatory establishments, most events will both abandon them or instrumentalize them as half and parcel of an authoritarian energy consolidation technique. The teams’ altering political character turns into a matter not of “if,” however of “when.” Political get together leaders can, if they need and if they fight, keep true to the participatory imaginative and prescient by imaginative management and inventive organizational schemes. In Venezuela, nonetheless, they haven’t.

September 9, 2019

* Michael McCarthy is a Analysis Fellow with the Middle for Latin American & Latino Research, Adjunct Professor of Worldwide Affairs at GWU’s Elliott Faculty, and writer of Caracas Wire, a e-newsletter on Venezuela and South America. Jared Abbott is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Harvard College. That is tailored from their article, Grassroots Participation in Defense of Dictatorship, within the Summer 2019 Fletcher Forum.