post by Marines Pocaterra
Reflecting on one of our recent posts “The Revolution Bolivariana and the Social Contract” by Andrew Carman, I’d like to summarize the sad involution it has caused in Venezuela.
Fifteen years ago, in 1999, Venezuela was implementing pilot plans to upgrade informal areas. In 5 years more than a million people would have had a radical improvement on their urban living conditions and value of their properties. The master plan, would proceed until every community could obtain financial and professional resources to rehabilitate their sector, their houses transformed into economic assets with massive inclusion of the lower income sector in the urban economic pattern.
Few years later, Chavez and his pretend “revolution for the poor” stalled all urban plans breaking agreements with World Bank.
The premise “we need the poor to remain poor” was acknowledged in private by revolutionary leaders. If people believe they will improve on their own effort, revolution would not survive. They had to induce a highly dependent population manipulating economy, laws, propaganda and information, Cuba’s style. The division language began hammering poor against rich. Oil income bought silence from many countries and a few crooks on power looted the country turning the democratic system which elected them, into a dictatorship.
Democratic accountability, contrary to dictatorship, is related to conscious citizens demanding the terms of social contract. Democratic governments have to report periodically on their performance, but the language used is often very technical, hermetic to most citizens.
In contrast, results of correct urban policies are visible as before/after pictures, and reflect in citizen’s self-esteem and quality of life. A successful social contract is supported on built-in control systems, simple enough to be comprehended by big majorities. Also, urban interventions are workshops of public behavior or social contract reflected on everyday life.
Could improving the urban environment help to strengthen citizenship against extremism: and towards generating dialog and accountability?
Such a mechanism could function like this:
- Urban structure is the concrete expression of the social contract. Citizens elect a government to satisfy their needs in health, education, recreation, communications, environment and housing. Governments should generate urban plans supplying services and facilities to satisfy these needs.
- The social contract is often broken by elected leaders after assuming power. Resuming accountability requires timely and wide reaction from the people.
- Antidote: Empowering people. Learning through participation, early detecting of problems and dishonesty. Widening private objectives past the private realm to the laws of social interaction can build the social glue to power urban renewal strategies. But also to deter poor leadership.
- Implementing urban measuring systems, which can be grasped by all, is a major inclusive policy to be applied to pursue connection/activation of majority of low income sectors. If citizen’s control weakens, this population becomes easy prey to negative leaders, seeking power; militarization, division, sectarism, extremism, could be common features in absence of an empowered citizenship.
- Citizen’s training workshops should be over urban development instead of military service. Urban service or urban internships, work better for sustainable development.
Maybe the Master Plans we produced in 2000 were optimistic, but the learning process that was only beginning was lost, as was the chance of a quantic urban leap from uncontrolled city growth to planned participative and sustainable interventions platform that present world conditions require.
Could the implementation of rehabilitation of the main cities (as planned) have averted the current chaos dominating the country?
Professionals were working alongside low income population, who were leading and approving the projects. We experts were getting to know their needs, finally working for the 90% on their own terms. We cannot say for sure if peace was to be the reward but certainly the revolution was betting against peace.