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Dependent Civil Society: The Circulos Bolivarianos in Venezuela

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 41, Number 1, 2006
pp. 102-132 | 10.1353/lar.2006.0008

Abstract

For several years the Círculos Bolivarianos were a key organized component of the movement supporting President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and the question of their democratic qualities a source of considerable controversy, but until recently there was little data to test the competing claims of supporters and opponents. We report the results of a survey of 110 members of Círculos and several interviews carried out in four Venezuelan states during June and July 2004. After providing basic information on the Círculos, we analyze their tendency to contribute to a democratic civil society. We find that respondents had highly democratic goals and methods; however, their organizations embodied a charismatic mode of linkage to Chávez that undermined their ability to become institutionalized. In addition, although the Círculos performed valuable social work, they often reinforced clientelistic relations between Chávez and the voters, and they did not significantly enhance the level of pluralism in the broader civil society.

Durante varios años los Círculos Bolivarianos fueron un componente clave en el movimiento que apoya al Presidente Hugo Chávez en Venezuela y una fuente de controversia considerable en cuanto a sus cualidades democráticas; sin embargo, hasta hace poco tiempo no había suficientes datos para probar las opiniones de partidarios y opositores a dicho movimiento. Presentamos los resultados de una encuesta realizada a 110 miembros de los Círculos y varias entrevistas efectuadas en cuatro estados venezolanos durante junio y julio de 2004. Luego de proveer información básica sobre los Círculos, analizamos su tendencia a contribuir a una sociedad civil democrática. Encontramos que los encuestados tienen altos objetivos y procedimientos democráticos; sin embargo, sus organizaciones personifican un modo carismático de conexión con Chávez que dificulta su habilidad para institucionalizarse. A su vez, y a pesar de que los Círculos realizaron un valioso trabajo social, han reforzado las relaciones clientelísticas entre Chávez y sus votantes; y no han aumentado de manera significativa el nivel de pluralismo en la sociedad civil en general.



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