Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained
The True Meaning of Democracy
“… wherein the just shall dwell,
And, after all their tribulations long,
See golden days, fruitful of golden deeds,
With joy and love triumphing, and fair truth …”
Currently, in Latin America the word “democracy” has taken new and intensified meaning. There are political movements declaring themselves, “democratic” in nature. Of international significance is the movement known as, “Bolivarian democracy,” which has its roots in Venezuela, under the leadership of Hugo Chavez.
Adopted in December of 1999, by popular referendum, the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela establishes a constitutional oligarchy with a weak, unicameral legislature and a strong president. Various social welfare programs, funded by oil profits, constitute “a new socialist revolution.” This is social democracy. It is not political democracy.
One of the most original experiments in self-government is taking place in Porto Alegre, the capital city of the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. In 1989, the government of Porto Alegre initiated a form of self-government known as Participatory Budgeting that is being imitated throughout Brazil and around the world. Ordinary citizens are given the opportunity to present their demands and set priorities for improvement. Through discussions and negotiations they influence the budget allocations made by their municipalities.
In March, there are plenary assemblies in each of the city’s sixteen districts as well as assemblies dealing with such areas as transportation, health, education, sports, and economic development. These large meetings—with participation that can reach over 1,000—elect delegates to represent specific neighborhoods. The mayor and staff attend to respond to citizen concerns.
What would happen if this model were applied on the national level? One would have true democracy.