Democracy Falling

Alejandro Velasco's "Barrio Rising" is a searing meditation on the failures of Venezuela's governments - Chávez included.


A man is taking a shower in his apartment in Caracas’ 23 de Enero complex. His head is filled with the events of recent days. In the adjacent room, his young children are playing.

Suddenly, his wife’s screams jolt him outside.

His sister-in-law and his young boy, unaware of the dangers they faced, have peeked out the window. The soldiers down below warn them to go back inside, but his sister-in-law is deaf, so she does not heed the call.

The soldiers shoot. A bullet finds lodging in his young son’s frontal lobe.

After taking him to several hospitals that are unable to admit him, his child dies. “‘He couldn’t talk or see  after they shot him,’ testified Moncada [the man in question], ‘but he could hear me … I asked him questions and he squeezed my hand, he squeezed my hand to tell me that it hurt. And so on until I left him [at the Lídice hospital], later they notified me he was dead.”


Francisco Moncada’s story during the heady days of the Caracazo lies at the heart of Alejandro Velasco’s “Barrio Rising.”

The book is, in theory, just the story of a neighborhood. Yet contrary to what its title suggests, the tale is not about its rise but about its demise. In the sprawling, crumbling mess that is Caracas’ 23 de Enero, we witness the fall of democracy itself through the eyes of its inhabitants.

The “23 de Enero” is a parish at the heart of Caracas, home to tens of thousands of Venezuelans living a stone’s throw away from the Presidential palace. In the 1950s, dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez razed the existing shacks to make way for 45 modern high-rises. He didn’t finish the job because he was overthrown. On January 23rd, 1958, the day he fled, residents from all over the Metropolitan area invaded the apartments and claimed them in the name of Venezuela’s nascent democracy, christening the buildings after the date.

As you can imagine, dealing with thousands of people squatting semi-finished apartments is a nightmare for any public entity. The problems were confounded by the traumatic way the change in government took place, and by the upheaval that marked 1960s Venezuela.

Velasco takes his time to delve into these root causes. One particularly interesting fact is that the 23 de enero did not support Rómulo Betancourt, Venezuela’s first elected President after the dictator’s fall. Since it did not immediately buy into the nascent “adeco” hegemony, it was immediately viewed as “a problem” by the governing elite. The “rebelious” nature of the neighborhood was thus born.

And what a problem it was.

The veintitrés quickly became one of the epicenters of Marxist urban guerrillas. The chaotic maze-like nature of the buildings and their strategic location near the epicenter of power in the country meant that radicals could take advantage of legitimate grievances over things like trash and water to blend in.

But the groups never really blended. The picture that emerges in the book is that of an uneasy mix of an aspiring middle class barely coexisting with radical activists looking to push an ideological agenda.

The two groups coalesce (narratively speaking) in the climax of the book: the two chapters devoted to the 1980s.

In 1981, residents of the barrio “kidnapped” garbage trucks in a desperate push to rid their neghborhood of mounting garbage. At one point, residents complained garbage in the chutes reached the fourteenth floor, and “worms were eating away at the structures.”

The secuestros followed overtures from the government of President Luis Herrera Campins, a Christian Democrat. Herrera had courted the traditionally non-adeco parish, and in his first few months of office turned his focus on the parish.

But chronic inefficiency, combined with Venezuela’s mounting economic problems, caught up with him. Even a well-intentioned program to transfer ownership to residents flopped. Two years into the Herrera administration, the parish was literally up to its elbows in trash, and they became radicalized.

Democracy had failed them for the last time. A new form of coexistence was born – one where radical moves were taken, prompting stop-gap measures from governments that seemed to legitimize them.

This decadent pax puntofijista was broken in February of 1989.

The chapter on the caracazo is the book’s best. All of the story’s elements came to a head in those days of looting, and of the heavy-handed government response that followed.

The metaphor really writes itself: buildings named after Venezuela’s democratic hope become littered with bullets.

Velasco steers away from claiming victimhood, though. In his narrative, there was clearly a confrontation between radicalized sharpshooters on the buildings’ rooftops and the army down below. Interestingly, radical elements in the neighborhood were seemingly caught off guard by the spontaneous looting, putting a dent in the theory that the caracazo had been planned and spurred on by communist cells embedded in Venezuela’s poor communities.

Caught in the middle of all this mess were innocent residents. Some of them had looted, yes, but many had not. Most thought the response was overwhelming. Moncada’s child Francisco, the dead boy from the beginning of this post, was one of the first victims.

By the time young Francisco had died, the work was done. Venezuela’s democracy had nothing more to offer people like the Moncadas.

“These accounts,” Velasco writes in a crucial segment, “presented the scale of violence as the breakdown of historical patterns of acceptability, rooted in their lived experience as residents of the 23 de enero. Residents used this same register to make sense of what transpired as a massacre less of people than of expectations.”

We all know what happened next: Chávez’s two coup attempts, Por Estas Calles, CAP’s impeachment, the banking crisis, and the death of a political system that had lived long past its due date.

Velasco mixes his techniques deftly, but at times jarringly. In the same chapter, we may think we are reading an anthropological study, while the next paragraph changes to narrative non-fiction. In its more arid passages, Velasco puts on his poli-sci hat. Whereas some readers may be turned off by the shifting tone, it owes less to the ambition of the author than to the complexity of his subject.

It is also worth pointing out that Velasco’s work would have been impossible were it not for Venezuela’s vibrant press of the 1970s and 1980s, as witnessed by his numerous cites to newspaper reports. Journalists back then were not afraid to go into the veintitrés to air neighbors’ grievances, to really tell the story of what was going on in popular sectors.

This would be impossible in today’s Venezuela. The government’s clamp-down on press freedoms and its deliberate empowerment of urban guerrillas means the work of the future Velascos will be that much harder. A large chunk of Venezuela’s contemporary history will be lost.

In my previous entry, I asked … what do the residents of the veintitrés really want?

A minority basically want a revolution, but a large majority really wants what all of us aspire to: opportunity. Good schools. Garbage. Running water. A better life.

Many of us think of el veintitrés as an unsolvable problem. Most of us Venezuelans would probably be scared of the place. To use the words of journalist Cristina Marcano, cited by Velasco, the neighborhood is “a 45-headed hydra.”

But the parish is not a monster. Urban planners would relish at the challenge it poses. Delivering public services, even private ones, would break the unholy alliance between minority radicals and the majority of the population. Ultimately, it’s not about ideology or crime fighting. It’s about public policy, about delivering dignity, and restoring the promise of democracy. And it all goes through delivering services in an efficient, inclusive manner.

The solution is not political – it’s wonk-ish. The only hope we have is in recognizing people’s dignity, and in delivering.

For too long, we Venezuelans have looked down on technical answers to focus on the political. But politicians alone cannot deliver what people need if they are not accompanied by a solid technical understanding of the complexities involved. Trash that reaches the fourteenth floor is political problem, for sure, but it’s mostly a logistical problem.

Chavismo never understood this, and that is why they are poised to lose the coming election – even, perhaps, in the iconic ventitrés.

But consolidating this win means understanding that the challenge ahead is less about rhetoric than it is about a tangible delivery of public goods.

Recognizing this challenge … is the only way out of this mess.

What did you think of the book? What do you think of the book club format? Let’s get the conversation going.

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  1. I previously mentioned this article…it’s from 1983, from the Soviet magazine Vokrug Svjeta, which is an older publication than National Geographic.

    Even if you need to use Google translate and the output is not very good, it is worth reading.

    The description comes from a Soviet journalist in the year of the Viernes Negro. He focuses on 23 de enero and, like normal at that time, he got special tours and treatment there because he went to the people of the Communist Party.

    As I have said earlier: communist groups were more than actively trying to brainwash people’s minds there. And they had an easy target because of the way were acting, the crumbling education levels and the fact most Venezuelans know nothing about sustainable development and never understand why the economy collapses time after time (oil, not even in the best of times, could be enough for a population importing more and more and becoming the most urban of the Americas).

    The commies made used of the Caracazo. The whole thing was an incestuous relationship between the military and the commies: half enemies without mercy, half infiltrated.

    The extreme left established networks similar to those set up by extreme religious groups trying to recruit people to their cause.

    But yeah, at the end of the day, people will turn to whomever promises a change.

  2. I concur. But what I found interesting was that communist groups were taken by surprise by the spontaneous protests those days. After that, they rode the wave and foight until their ammo ran out (another interesting tidbit in the book).

    Breaking that unnatural alliance is key to navigating the tricky politics of the veintitres.

    • I haven’t read the book, I’ll try to find it here or, worst case scenario, get it through Amazon.

      I do not agree all communist groups were taken by surprise. I completely do not agree. At that time those groups were acting more independently than they ever were and some of them were actively trying to provoke an outbreak of violence.

      They had the training and they were constantly trying it. I saw them with my own eyes doing it in the university march of early 88 when they infiltrated the march coming from close to 23 de Enero. The march ended very badly in spite of everything students and professors did to contain them. I don’t even count the other acts of “tiny” protests (like burning lorries) they usually organised around Plaza Central.

      In the times pre-Internet and pre-mobiles this was much easier: for a small group to set fire and not be discovered.

      The only way to reduce the probability of this happening again is if economists and lawyers and others educate the common folk – yes, the humblest Gumercinda and Jonny – about how much money we have, how it has gone up and down based on oil prices, how all the oil on Earth won’t be enough for getting us on its own to sustainable development and how to think about ways to

      finance the rubbish disposal
      construction of hospitals
      education of quality

      Naím and his peers didn’t think it was necessary back then. No one seems to be doing it now because people have been expecting to gain power before “educating” (which they will never do).

  3. Here are a few questions to get the conversation going:

    Did Velasco accomplish what he set out to do?

    What did you think of his writing style?

    Did the book change any pre-conceived notion you had about the subject?

    What is the book’s best part? What is its biggest flaw?

  4. A “23 de enero” story I actually did not know… and the 1980s -1990s history I did not live.
    Will Venezuela ever learn from its mistakes, or will it continue to make them under another political era?
    Will it ever be comprehended that “public service” and efficient and effective infrastructure logistics, as mentioned in this article, must be used in combination to benefit and SERVE the people, la ciudadanía, not to benefit the “owners” of power? if the rooted conditions that lead to the eventual death of puntofijismo are not effectively tackled and corrected by the new generation of public servants, the so needed and much expected change will be “el mismo… con diferente cachimbo” I hope the painful lessons have been learned.
    Will adventure with reading the book..

  5. The 23 is an emblematic neighborhood , its symbolic importance is greater than its real importance as a place , it stands for a chaotic place of massive misery , lawlessness and violence , for armed groups that use ideology to glamorize themselves by engaging in ‘revolutionary’ confrontation .

    Even if traditonal government ineptitude were to be replaced by well working government services youd still have some people enthranced by their ideologically glamorous fanaticism . The candid view that people just want the chance of leading a decent life , a better life , such as can be provided by the organs of a well functioning state may be missing part of the picture .!!

    Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote that people hanker for feeling identified with something grand and magnificent and that if they simply cant achieve that then (tongue in cheek) they always have recourse to alcoholism.

    Well in Venezuela alcoholism is not that much of a problem , but the need for something to bring a special dignity and trascendence to ones identity is there , and because people cant sattisfy that desire with what ordianary life has to offer them they resort to a different kind of alcoholism , the alcoholism of violent revolutionary passions!! one suffused with grand melodramatically staged political struggles.

    Chavez understood that , he himself was afflicted with a overwhelming narcicistic urge for being recognized as an all powerful hero and saviour so he was perfect at giving people a discourse that afforded them a taste of that heady pleasure , allowing them to adopt a glamorous revolutionary identity .

    Being able to cast themselves plausibly as victims of a failed and corrupt social system helped bring punch to that passion . So even if the State is able to furnish the inhabitants of the 23 de Enero with what they need to live a decent life , there will still be groups of ideological alcoholics wanting to act out their violent melodramas …….perhaps the problems are deeper than we might rationally surmise.!!

    • Well, that might be true, but at least governance (aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to so) would break the alliance between the radicals and ordinary folk. That … would be progress.

      • Totally in agreement with your comment Juan , Good governance would make the bond between ordinary inhabitants and radical groups much weaker , perhaps sever it to a very large extent , The problem is that the delights of assuming a radical identity exist even for people who have little or nothing to complain about .

        The other problem is that a totally functional system of public services is a tough job , there are always partial deficiencies even in the best of cases which can goad people into radical stances.!!

        We tend to think that if you take away the vices of a clientelar or corrupt political system the apparatus of the state will automatically become efficient and do its job, I fear that doing things well, managing things efficiently is a virtue or talent which requires not only leaders guided by the best ideals but of organizations that are technically and operationally equiped to work with efficiency , something which is difficult to achieve even where every thing else works as it should .

        There is not much attention paid to this good governance issue outside the routine invocation of the need for morals and education in people !! Most people dont have a clue about what it takes for an organization to work well !!

  6. Nice account of this piece of Venezuela’s urban history.

    One thing I will never comprehend is how the Chavistas have the audacity to call themselves “Marxist” or even “Socialists”, when all they are is Capitalistic to the bone, full-blown criminals and thieves. All they want is money and power, for themselves, above all, of course.

    “The veintitrés quickly became one of the epicenters of Marxist urban guerrillas.”.

    Marxist? Not so sure. Most people hardly could read, let alone comprehend basic Marxist twisted ideology. Street Gangs. Lots of drugs. Fighting for money, for property, or at least Power and privilege.

    “…what do the residents of the veintitrés really want?

    A minority basically want a revolution, but a large majority really wants what all of us aspire to: opportunity. Good schools. Garbage. Running water. A better life.”

    Of course. Capitalismo puro y del bueno. But the biggest Chavista lie that innocent, poor people keep buying is one of “equality” or ” inherent goodness of the poor pueblo” who are just “oppressed by la derecha or the bourgeoisie.. It’s pathetic. Then, first chance they get with some position in the Government all they do is Steal as much and as fast as possible. 95% of them. Or at least some favors… freebies, getting as many Material Things as possible, with the least hard work and honest effort.

    Of course no one in veintitres has probably ever read or will ever read a book like this one. And that’s the main problem. They are simply not intellectually equipped to discern between “socialismo” crap and freedom or a true Republic or meritocracy.

    Sadly, they will hardly ever read Garcia Marquez, for example, great writer, but also a delusional “communist” who happened to Love the good life. They will never know about Garcia Marquez’s frequent trips to visit Fidel Castro in his numerous, lavish Villas in Cuba. They will hardly ever hear about Chavez’s daughters’ hundreds of millions in Andorra. And they will keep fighting and killing each other for Money and Power, talking about “socialismo”, “el pueblo” y Chavez. Until someone establishes a tough Justice system, Real Police, accountability and real Education.

  7. In the summer of 1977 New York City had a long Blackout. There was looting and arson with thousands of stores destroyed. They had decent public services though. People will loot given the chace. Dark side of human nature.
    The 23 de Enero started with the left foot. Not all the blame lies on the Government, not even the Perez Jimenez dictatorship and could actually be argue for the opposite.
    Back in 1977 NYC hit bottom of a social decay though, so certain things are interelated.
    I wonder if the 23 de Enero could organize itself like many other condominions and pay for their garbage collection.

  8. I bought it and am in mid-read. I have no background knowledge about the barrio itself, but I think Velasco has touched on something important about Venezuela’s absence of remembered history.

    To sum up what he says: you can’t ride to power promising a magical future unless you hide the fact that your nostrums have failed in the past.

    I’m finding the book fascinating.

    • Pregúntales a 10 venezolanos (incluidos universitarios) en qué siglo, más o menos, nació Jesucristo (independientemente del credo que tengan), en qué siglo, más o menos, llegaron los europeos a Venezuela, en qué siglo más o menos, se produjo la Guerra de Independencia y de que idioma se deriva principalmente el castellano. Prepárate.

      But everyone knows what a mythical Bolivar supposedly said when he farted in Los Llanos or when he pissed crossing the Orinoco.

  9. A really good article and commentary by all, especially JCN and Lee. I do believe that the vast majority of Venezuela’s majority poor aspire to decent public services/opportunities, rather than are fervent believers first in whatever Leftist ideology comes down the pike, but the roadblocks to achieving these aspirations continue to be great: lack of an adequate education/moral values, at both the Pueblo and leadership level; continually failed public institutions, especially the Justice system; and, now, the sheer lack of adequate capital to get the job done, due to a languishing oil price and heavy public indebtedness.

    • Good points. I always thought it would be socialism in Venezuela that would bring la Reforma Agraria to life, for example; the transfer of riches and resources to sustainability, for the greater good. But no. I agree the lack of moral values and education (which would carry with it common sense) are a big part of the problem.

  10. Symbols are like cymbals. Good for noise making and attention grabbing. The story goes deeper than physical conditions. It touches on the psychology of masses fed on ignorance and rage tantrums rather than a rational view of the problem. You cannot live entirely on emotion and icons. Take the building and apply a good dose of community clean up moxie rather than waiting for the government to do something. Stop waiting and act to do and do without fear. The outcome would be revolutionary. Venezuela is a life long affair of the heart rather than a mere passionate embrace in the darkness of politics. Neither communists nor capitalists can deal with the heart. It is not a good subject for dialectics and that is all they can do like a palm tree loaded with parakeets. Roll up the sleeves and address the needs. The book is a good preface but irtis not the main body of text. It needs to be written today for today’s problems. The past is preface aa they say.

    Congratulations of the overall style of the blog. It looks too rational for our tropical style of insulting remarks to cower opposition and hide ignorance. Great. Keep on trucking.

  11. We know the what, at least a what. What we don’t know is why. This is why rhetorics are important, why a narrative matters. Anything that can get accomplished by such a huge group of people as is a country can only get accomplished via the simplifying and coordinating power of grand reasoning. Anything else is as much fantasy as a Leninist revolution: the Pragmatist revolution! I smell blood…

  12. Great post Juan! Regarding your questions. Although, I enjoyed the book, I have to admit I felt a bit empty at the end. I think it was rushed after the Caracazo. I would have liked to know what happen after and what made Chavez click. From my understanding, Chavez didn’t start with so much popularity, but he managed to conquer voters during his campaign. I would have liked to know what happened at 23 during the completely ignored Caldera period, who I think played a role in cementing the vestiges of the democratic system. To me this is the biggest flaw. I feel the book falls into the trap of remembering some of the events on a rhetoric that Chavez put forward. To give some evidence about this: there is an obvious mistreatment of Betancourt. He may not be my favorite politician, but the fact that he was fighting organized communist guerrilla groups, that didn’t believe in democracy, is not stressed much. Another account from the second half is the view of how representative democracy could not deliver, but making Luis Herrera’s idea of participative democracy a good one, but badly implemented. So I think the treatment of both systems is not really fair.

    He’s writing style is very good. I think it’s very interesting for a book that describes many complex events. Also, he alternates figures with personal tales, which I found really fascinating. The book did change my conceptions about Caracazo and how many innocents were killed. Also, I didn’t know the use of force was so disproportionate. It’s worth remembering the story of many of the people that died there. First, to honor them. The story of the kid you brought up will certainly stick with me. Second, for future governments as well, to know how to deal (or not deal) with the military in the presence of protests. For me this part and the beginning are the best.

    Finally, I would like to pick up something you said in your post regarding the efficiency of public policy. I agree that governments should prioritize the implementation of sound policies. However, this is not independent of ideology when you have a radical ideology. For example, it’s really hard to think you can improve the quality of garbage collection without allowing garbage companies to work freely, or to charge fees for garbage collection. Hence, I do believe having an ideology that is more to the center (whether social democrat center or Christian democrat) is kind of a prerequisite. Furthermore, it allows you to prioritize properly. At the end government are bounded to a budget constraint whether they like it or not.

    • May I know how many people the book claims were killed?
      Because the Chavista figures go up to 5000 but
      – the only mass grave found had less than 200 and all in all about 275 murdered people were accounted
      – nearly everyone even then had a cédula and a family and the “Caracazo” events took place almost exclusively in the most populated areas of Venezuela, not in some jungle as in Colombia
      – no independent commission has ever been introduced to carry out a proper investigation nor has there been a list of missing people

      At the end of the day, it seems we have less figures and less serious research on the Caracazo than what we have about the casualties during the First Greek-Persian wars. And that is part of the Venezuela desmemoriada de siempre (actually Alexander von Humboldt noticed that already 215 years ago)

  13. Dear all, just a brief note thanking you – especially Juan – for engaging the book so closely. I’m following the replies and hope to have a chance to respond in the spirit of debate, just as soon as I can climb out of the mountain of papers I have pending to grade. For now, let me just offer that I agree that what democracy “is” in the book isn’t entirely clear, at least not in a way that political science might appreciate. What I try to capture in the book is that democracy on the ground in el 23 during the period I cover was more about process than about outcome; as Juan notes, more about making the everyday of life work rather than grand ideological claims. What residents in the main held on to was the idea that in a democracy, you should be able to and indeed, should be expected to hold elected officials to account, in ways that begin rather than end with the vote. To be sure, the vote is what grants officials legitimacy; it’s how they establish the responsibilities that then allow for and demand accountability from citizens at large. This is why, in large measure, they rejected the 60s guerrilla movement – it had no electoral purchase or project (it’s also, incidentally, why the PCV took so long to support the armed struggle, because as a party, it had real electoral prospects). That said, insofar as residents wanted “something” out of democracy it was, in the end, effective government. Pure and simple. That’s why I spend as much time on Luis Herrera, and in particular on his “participatory democracy” discourse – it was the clearest, earliest articulation of the idea that democracy is about the interplay of rights and responsibilities, between state and citizenry, at the everyday level, as Herrera Campins wrote and stated, “where citizens most directly interact with ‘the state'” – public services, basic infrastructure, police, etc. And it’s no surprise that Chavez took up that thread later. The seeds were long before planted, by a Christian Democrat no less. Ultimately, the combination of effective government, electoral legitimacy, and institutional and extra-institutional accountability is what came to mark the ideal of democracy for residents of el 23, based on their experience from the 1950s to the 1980s. Anyway, thank you all again.

  14. “Chavismo never understood this, and that is why they are poised to lose the coming election – even, perhaps, in the iconic ventitrés.But consolidating this win means understanding that the challenge ahead is less about rhetoric than it is about a tangible delivery of public goods.”

    Did they never understood this or maybe didn’t want to implement it afraid that the people would then start walking by their own means after a period of time? Remember Aristobulo Ruiz’ “Los pobres tendrán que seguir siendo pobres, los necesitamos asi.”?

    It’s known that to urbanize poor neighbourhoods (specially by painting and providing basic sanitation), and then transferring ownership (from state to citizen), cause automatic gentrification and consequent crime reduction in those areas, making the area middle class. Thus, those area would be “neutralized” for populist purposes, what means that it wouldn’t be a breeding ground for Chavismo anymore. And communists just can’t accept that.

    I remember when truly well-intentioned people in the city Hall of my city tried to open streets in slums that cars couldn’t even enter, and give ownership titles for the people living there, but the communists, ironically, went nuts!!! Seriously, a nerve had been clearly touched, talking about garlic and vampires here, the communists argued that opening streets in the slums would make them suffer “decharacterization”. Hell, but that was in fact precisely the goal desired: to decharactize what is horrible! To make it resemble a civilized area, to give an amout of dignity to the people living there, to reduce the mess of stacked shacks a bit! They didn’t allow it, and proposed making slums untouchable “historical heritage”. That was their solution. And what about giving ownership titles? The communists didn’t like it too. They said that that would make the poor “sell their property”. Yes, maybe they will, maybe they won’t but let them f… do whatever they want!!! “B-bu-but the slum will stop being a slum if the poor leave”. Ahhhhhh. So that’s what’s your worry is all about in the first place, right?! You guys actually WANT the slum there! And you want the poor living miserable lives too! Because it’s not easy to receive votes and make your populism when there are not many slums and poor people around, right? “Yep.”

    The slums in my city will just never disappear while the communists keep running the show. And I believe the Caracas’ citizens understand exactly what I’m talking about.

    • This is very good point. I think it’s a combination of things. First, a deeply populist government that sees the poor as votes that would support them. Secondly, a communist ideology that has never been convinced with property rights. However, I don’t think the government has failed in providing services to these people on purpose. They would still like to keep their constituency happy. Nonetheless, I think they’re also really inefficient. However, it’s really hard to provide good services when you expect to do it all by yourself with centralization and attacks to the private sector.

      • Well, to give cheap ownership titles, then make a very basic urbanitazion project and finally plaster and paint the naked bricks don’t require a whole lot of efficiency. After almost twenty of a revolucion allegedly ‘focused on the poor’, one would think that these poor areas wouldn’t even exist anymore today… And as you said, the government wouldn’t even need to be the ones doing it, they could just distribute the ownership titles and then let the private sector do all the rest. Yet, they don’t do their part nor let others do what they don’t do.

        Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn of the ‘Favela Painting’ team have said that their privately funded projects to improve poor areas only find opposition by one particular class in South America: politicians. That was a very big surprise for them, but definitely not for me.

  15. Lest we forget…..

    There are two kinds of organizations for the performance of essential public services or activities , grass roots organizations, composed of people who lack any specific expertize or competence but maybe are possesed of lots of heart and professional or technocratic organizations which are functionally equipped with the resources , expertizes , competencies needed to carry out a job.

    Most people feel a sentimental attachement to the idea that grass roots spontaneous organizations are best or ideal , which implies the belief that ordinary amateurs gathered together are always competent to do most public tasks . The truth of the matter is that this belief is often misfounded . There are many tasks where even if grass roots organization can help, the basic task must be performed by progessional or technocratic organizations with its resources and expertizes and experience and professional management . The aesthetic of having community grass roots organization take on any job is well neigh irresistible to the modern heart. Behind this aesthetic are the communitarian ideals of the Christian socialists and those of the comuna movement within Chavismo.

    Mao was a sentimental believer in giving grass roots organizations big tasks , for example he attempted to build a modern Steel Industry by directing the population the operation of tiny back yard steel making operations , od course it was a total failure .!!

    The only ones to make grass roots communitarian organizations work at a basic primary activity level were israeli kibbutzin , for a while , in time professional corporations and organizations probed more competent at carrying out those jobs.

    There is of course room for grass roots organizations but to think that they can competently undertake the big tasks is a romantic delusion because spontaneous amateurs dont have the competence of professionally run and staffed operations . !!

    Good governance is more a creature of professional technocratical organizations than of amateur grass roots organizations ……….even if they are much less romantically beguiling . !!


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