The Rise and Fall of Radical Democracy in Torres, ‘Venezuela’s First Socialist City’

Palabras clave: Venezuela, radical democracy, Torres municipality, Chavismo, socialism


Debate on the existence and quality of democracy in Venezuela in the Chávez and post-Chávez years remains highly polarized. Many scholars view Venezuela throughout this time as an authoritarian (or competitive authoritarian) regime, while some view it as an example of radical democracy. This article uses a case study of Torres municipality to build on a third view, which emphasizes the contradictions and messiness of Venezuelan democracy under Chávez. The article shows that Torres is an example of a radical democracy in which ordinary citizens enjoyed significant real power over political decision-making. This came about through what Poulantzas terms a combined struggle inside and outside the state, with radical left forces and social movements exploiting the contradictions of the Hugo Chávez administration’s left-populist regime to build radical democracy. Torres’ experiment came under strain from 2016 on due to the consolidation of national-level authoritarianism and prolonged economic crisis. This set the stage for the end of the experiment following the November 2021 victory of an opposition mayoral candidate, which highlights the non-monolithic character of Venezuelan authoritarianism.


La descarga de datos todavía no está disponible.

Biografía del autor/a

Gabriel Hetland

University at Albany. New York, USA. E-mail: |

ORCID: 0000-0002-1500-0682


AZZELLINI, Dario. 2016. Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela: Building 21st Century Socialism from Below. Brill.
BREWER-CARÍAS, Allan R. 2010. Dismantling Democracy in Venezuela: The Chávez Authoritarian Experiment. Cambridge University Press.
BUXTON, Julia. 2016. “Venezuela After Chávez.” New Left Review, II, no. 99: 5–25.
CICCARIELLO-MAHER, George. 2013. We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution. Durham: Duke University Press.
………… 2016. Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela. Verso.
COOPER, Amy. 2019. State of Health. University of California Press.
CORRALES, Javier, and Penfold, Michael. 2015. Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and the Legacy of Hugo Chavez. Second Edition. Washington: The Brookings Institution.
DUNNING, Thad. 2008. Crude Democracy: Natural Resource Wealth and Political Regimes. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
ELLNER, Steve. 2008. Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict, and the Chavez Phenomenon. Lynne Rienner.
……….. 2013. “Social and Political Diversity and the Democratic Road to Change in Venezuela.” Latin American Perspectives 40 (3): 63–82.
FERNANDES, Sujatha. 2010. Who Can Stop the Drums?: Urban Social Movements in Chávez’s Venezuela. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
GARCÍA-GUADILLA, María Pilar. 2011. “Urban Land Committees: Co-Optation, Autonomy, and Protagonism.” In Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy: Participation, Politics, and Culture under Chávez, edited by David Smilde and Daniel Hellinger, 80–103. Duke University Press.
GOLDFRANK, Benjamin. 2011a. Deepening Local Democracy in Latin America: Participation, Decentralization, and the Left. Penn State University Press.
……... 2011b. “The Left and Participatory Democracy.” In The Resurgence of the Latin American Left, edited by Steven Levitsky and Kenneth M. Roberts, 162–83. Johns Hopkins University Press.
GRANDIN, Greg. 2013. “On the Legacy of Hugo Chávez.” The Nation (online), March 6, 2013.
HANDLIN, Samuel. 2017. State Crisis in Fragile Democracies: Polarization and Political Regimes in South America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
HARNECKER, Marta. 2008. Transfiriendo poder a la gente: municipio Torres, estado Lara, Venezuela. Centro Internacional Miranda.
HAWKINS, Kirk A. 2010. Venezuela’s Chavismo and Populism in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge University Press.
HETLAND, Gabriel. 2014. “The Crooked Line: From Populist Mobilization to Participatory Democracy in Chávez-Era Venezuela.” Qualitative Sociology 37 (4): 373–401.
.………. 2018. “The Promise and Perils of Radical Left Populism: The Case of Venezuela.” Journal of World Systems Research 24(2): 277-292.
...………. 2019. “The Crisis in Venezuela.” Social Text Online. June 20.
KINGSBURY, Donald V. 2018. Only the People Can Save the People: Constituent Power, Revolution, and Counterrevolution in Venezuela. SUNY Press.
LÓPEZ MAYA, Margarita, and LANDER, Luis E. 2011. “Participatory Democracy in Venezuela: Origins, Ideas, and Implementation.” In Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy. Smilde and Hellinger, eds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
LÓPEZ MAYA, Margarita. 2014. “Iglesia Católica y Democracia Participativa y Protagónica En Venezuela.” Latin American Research Review 49 (S): 45–60.
MALLÉN, Ana L., and María-Pilar GARCÍA GUADILLA. 2017. Venezuela’s Polarized Politics: The Paradox of Direct Democracy Under Chávez. Lynne Rienner Publishers.
POULANTZAS, Nicos. 1979. State, Power, Socialism. Verso.
SCHILLER, Naomi. 2018. Channeling the State: Community Media and Popular Politics in Venezuela. Duke University Press.
SMILDE, David, 2011. “Introduction”, in Smilde, David, and Daniel Hellinger, eds. 2011. Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy: Participation, Politics, and Culture under Chávez. Duke University Press.
VALENCIA, Cristobal. 2015. We Are the State!: Barrio Activism in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
VELASCO, Alejandro. 2014. “Venezuela’s Polarizations and Maduro’s Next Steps.” NACLA (online). March 11, 2014.
…….. 2015. Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela. University of California Press.
WEYLAND, Kurt. 2013. “The Threat from the Populist Left.” Journal of Democracy 24 (3): 18–32.
WEBBER, Jeffery R. 2010. “Venezuela Under Chávez: The Prospects and Limitations of Twenty-First Century Socialism, 1998-2009.” Socialist Studies 6 (1): 11–44.
WILPERT, Gregory. 2007. Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. London and New York: Verso.
WRIGHT, Erik Olin. 2010. Envisioning Real Utopias. New York and London: Verso.
Official document
Alcaldía de Torres. 2011. “Plan de Desarollo.” Unpublished Document.
Cómo citar
Hetland, G. (2022). The Rise and Fall of Radical Democracy in Torres, ‘Venezuela’s First Socialist City’. Espacio Abierto, 31(2), 75-89. Recuperado a partir de
En foco: Críticas y paradojas de una revolución dentro de la Revolución. Sujetos