Social Participation as a Democracy-Consolidating Process in Brazil | Democracy

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Brazil's transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy has been supported by the institutionalisation of efforts to integrate citizen participation into policy-making. This paper traces the roots of citizen participation in the development of diverse community movements from the 1950s onwards, and the democratic movement that emerged from these. As a result, the 1988 federal constitution established a range of institutions to support the integration of civil society organisations into formal policy making. Twenty years on, the author describes the range and diversity of opportunities for citizen participation that exist in Brazil, and lists numerous positive social outcomes. Current challenges are analysed, such as the reluctance of some public managers to share power - particularly in economic policy-making - and recent managerial reforms of the state which fail to integrate the constitutional vision. Ongoing investments in civil society capacity will be essential for meaningful engagement to be sustained.
    Social participation as a democracy-consolidating process in Brazil  Alexandre Ciconello Introduction In its recent history, Brazil has experienced over 20 years – 1964 to 1985 – of a military authoritarian regime where the participation of citizens in public decisions was limited and discouraged. This situation, however, did not prevent many different participatory and empowering experiences emerging from the roots of Brazilian society. Most of the political and social forces which led Brazil’s re-democratisation process in the 1980s were motivated by comprehensive democratic concepts that were not restricted to re-establishing a representative electoral system. The people had higher aspirations. The idea was to promote radical changes within the existing framework of a non-democratic, excluding, and authoritarian state. This was not to be done through institutional rupture or a revolution, but rather through gradual changes in the power framework. The aim was to enhance the participation of men and women in political decisions affecting their lives. But what could be done to turn these ideals into reality? What institutional mechanisms should be created to foster these changes? This study seeks to provide some answers to these questions. It seeks to analyse the social participation framework created in Brazil after the democratic regime was re-established in the country, late in the 1980s. Today, Brazil is a melting pot of initiatives and ideas for promoting the participation of citizens, both men and women, in public decisions. Apart from having their voting rights assured, Brazilian men and women rely nowadays on many different standardised participation forums and mechanisms within the state bureaucracy as a result of the pressure applied by civil-society organisations. Over the past 20 years, different formal participation spaces have been built at the federal, state, and municipal levels. As a result, it is estimated that there are over 40,000 public policy councils linked to different governmental structures that rely on the participation of thousands of civil-society organisations throughout the country today. This study describes this institutional innovation, as well as its impacts and challenges for consolidating and expanding democracy. This case study was written as a contribution to the development of From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World , Oxfam International 2008. It is published in order to share widely the results of commissioned research and programme experience. The views it expresses are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Oxfam International or its affiliate organisations.    Social participation as a democracy-consolidating process in Brazil From Poverty to Power -   2 Social participation in a democratic scenario The idea of ensuring the participation of individuals in public decisions, enabling them to discuss and deliberate on collective issues affecting their lives, has always been one of the key elements of democracy and politics. Besides the principles of equality and freedom, the democratic ideal presupposes actions, participation, co-responsibility, and interaction among different citizens (Ciconello & Moroni, 2005, p. 31). In the 1980s, the movements in society which forged Brazil’s political democratisation process were clearly aware of the limitations of a representative democratic regime and, therefore, they began to look for theoretical benchmarks in the so-called ‘participatory democracy’ or ‘deliberative democracy’, which could contribute toward building new institutional models in the Brazilian state. Therefore, a recurrent question for social movements was: what elements characterised a participatory democracy and what institutional mechanisms could make it feasible? In those days, the prevailing understanding was that participation should: ã be an educational process whereby citizens would learn how to exercise their rights, leading to the establishment of mutual links and influences between public and private spheres; ã allow for collective decisions to be more easily accepted by individuals, since they would be taking part in decision-making processes; ã lead to enhanced social integration, as each citizen feeling isolated from his or her community or organised group (association, union, social movement) would develop a stronger sense of belonging. If they were to be effective and truly capable of ensuring the desired educational and transformational ideal, institutional mechanisms should be established at the local level, from which links would be developed with other mechanisms at state/regional and national level, so as to finally produce public policies at the state level. This was the idea behind the efforts to promote the participation framework that exists in Brazil today. Historical background of social participation in Brazil In this section, the historical background of social participation in Brazil will be briefly analysed, based on a key question: how did the re-democratisation process, which began in the 1980s, manage to ensure social participation as a constitutional principle and as an integral element of the policy-making and control processes in the Brazilian state? Although the military dictatorship imposed limits on the freedom of expression and association of those individuals and political and social groups, which criticised the authoritarian political regime, there was some room for mobilisation and debates at the base of Brazilian society. This space was strategically identified and used by thousands of both formal and informal organisations, militants, religious people, intellectuals, and social movements. These groups were mainly inspired by theoretical and moral benchmarks such as the so-called ‘Liberation Theology’ and a pedagogic movement created by the Brazilian Paulo Freire called ‘grassroots education’ ( educação popular  ). Their actions were based on educational processes developed for low-income groups, with the aim of promoting their empowerment and awareness as citizens. The goal was to educate the population in order to promote social change. This strategy was in tune with another benchmark that was very popular among the opposition to the regime: the perspective of the Marxist thinker Antônio Gramsci, for whom changes could only be brought about as a result of a greater awareness of class divisions, and of the unequal and oppressive structures to which the Brazilian population was subjected. Although many political groups (non-government organisations [NGOs], social movements, unions, etc.) carried out participatory experiences with low-income segments of the population, this movement only gained unity and became politically strong as a result of the actions of progressive sectors of the Catholic Church, through the Comunidades Eclesiais de Base  (CEBs – Basic Christian Communities), groups linked to thousands of Catholic parishes spread throughout the country. In the    1970s and 1980s, the CEBs attempted to foster links between grassroots groups and sectors, and to strengthen their autonomy and organisation. The CEBs became known for their pedagogic approach, which emphasised participation, community links, and egalitarian ideals. It is estimated that, in the early 1980s, there were about 80,000 such communities in Brazil, totalling approximately two million people (Viola and Mainwaring 1987). The CEBs influenced the organisation of workers in unions, and the establishment of the Workers’ Party and of many associations which were set up for developing and ensuring rights (neighbourhood associations, community associations, NGOs fighting for rights, etc.). In parallel to this movement, as a result of an intense process of urbanisation in Brazil since the 1950s, hundreds of neighbourhood associations were established claiming better public services for their communities, such as water supply, sanitation, transportation, and electricity services, as well as schools and health stations. The ‘community association’ movement of the 1970s and 1980s was ‘perceived as a means for facing more pressing daily problems and for developing spaces for fostering democratic relations and establishing identities’ (Boschi 1987, p.71). During the same period, the first NGOs were set up in response to the loss of social and political spaces of organisations such as unions, universities, and political parties. These NGOs – which were focused on ensuring human rights and on establishing new rights – were intent on defining new political actions as well as new social processes, and they established a new dimension or segment in the history of Brazilian associations. In addition, these organisations were members of international solidarity networks made up of European and North American co-operation agencies, which ensured their financial and political sustainability. As a result of the intense pressure applied by society, the military regime promoted a gradual political liberalisation process, beginning in the early 1980s, that made it possible for the Workers’ Party and Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT, the largest trade union in Brazil) to be established on 10 February 1980 and 28 August 1983, respectively. These two events are landmarks in Brazil’s re-democratisation process and contributed to promote more radical changes in Brazilian society. The Workers’ Party brought together many social movements and managed to elect mayors for some important city halls, promoting emblematic participatory experiences in municipal management. Participatory budget The participatory budget (OP) is one of the most widely known participatory mechanisms across the world. It was developed in different Brazilian municipalities, but has gained greater visibility since 1989 when it was adopted in Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of  Rio Grande do Sul. According to a poll carried out in 2003 by the National Social Participation Forum 1  in Teixeira, Grazia,  Albuquerque, and Pontual, 140 Brazilian municipalities had begun to implement an OP process. All of these initiatives aim to ensure the participation of the population in defining some priorities and in allocating budget resources to public projects and services, as well as in following up on the implementation of the municipal budget. From the educational point of view, the results achieved by involving the population in the municipal management process are undeniable. However, the survey suggested that the main difficulties faced in OP processes are the relatively low amount of resources included in budget discussions (barely ten per cent of the municipal budget in most cases), and the not always effective implementation of projects and services deliberated on by the population in assemblies. Nevertheless, OP processes led to actual changes in the routine management of cities in one-third of the experiences. These successful experiences at the community level – and now also at the level of municipal administrations – showed that it was indeed possible to create institutional participation mechanisms to enhance the influence of citizens on public decisions. However, it was necessary to increase the scale of these initiatives and to incorporate them into the policy-making process at state level. How Social participation as a democracy-consolidating process in Brazil From Poverty to Power -   3    could a highly bureaucratic and authoritarian state be democratised? What kind of institutional mechanisms should be built? These were the challenges facing the constituent assembly and social movements when the federal constitution was discussed, in 1988. Institutionalisation of participatory processes since the federal constitution of 1988 The democratic movement that emerged from the base of Brazilian civil society during the 1970s and 1980s developed sufficient political power and expression to bring about a true democratisation of the nation’s political system at the institutional-legal level. The federal constitution of 1988, which was influenced by many different political forces and subjects, established a democratic rule-of-law state in Brazil. It also promulgated a set of principles and guidelines to ensure the participation of citizens in the design, implementation, and social control of public policies that later on were regulated and implemented in different institutional mechanisms at the three levels of the federation (federal, state, and municipal levels). The constitution also recognised new responsibilities to be taken on by civil-society organisations within the Brazilian political system, highlighting their supporting role in the management of public affairs. For these reasons, among others, the National Constitution was nicknamed the ‘citizen constitution’. Therefore, the two main mechanisms for collective deliberations, based on the constitutional guidelines of ensuring the participation of citizens in defining public policies, are the public policy councils and the conferences. Public policy councils The public policy councils 2  were created for the purpose of implementing the participatory ideals provided for in the federal constitution, allowing the Brazilian population to participate more intensely in the definition, implementation, and social control of public policies. Governmental decisions were no longer restricted to members of the executive branch and public managers, as they began to be shared with civil society. Although collegiate institutions such as councils were not new in the Brazilian state, their configuration after the passage of the 1988 constitution constituted a veritable institutional revolution. One of the first public policies to be fully redefined as a result of this participatory and decentralising approach was the health policy. The Unified Health System (SUS) was created to link all public and universal health-care services at the three levels of the federation (federal, state, and municipal). A deliberative and permanent health council was established in each of these administrative levels, half of which was compulsorily made up of civil-society representatives. 3  The council has many different legal responsibilities, which include defining strategies and priorities for the health policy and approving public funds earmarked for implementing governmental programmes and actions. Another major role of this council is ensuring social control of this policy by monitoring and evaluating governmental actions. Later on, this model was extended to other social policies, particularly to those which, according to the constitution, should involve social participation; namely, social work policies and policies for children and adolescents. It was agreed that a public policy council should ideally be based on: ã equal representation (same number of government and civil-society representatives); ã being deliberative (in charge of deliberating on the design of the policy and on its priorities and budget); ã shared management of the policy, allowing for its social control by civil-society organisations and movements (monitoring and evaluation); ã implementation at the three levels of the federation (federal, state, and municipal), ensuring a federative management framework for public policies; Social participation as a democracy-consolidating process in Brazil From Poverty to Power -   4
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