By Michael Kaufman, Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
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Additional resources for Community Power & Grassroots Democracy: The Transformation of Social Life
When a committee was created not through a land invasion but through institutional dealings — as was the case with Carmen Lyra and Guarari — participation in the initial phase was even more difficult since people did not share a common group experience and barely knew each other. This made it hard to create the trust needed for participation. Work in the organization was very irregular; people came but then left when they could get no concrete results to keep them there permanently. At some meetings one group took part, at the next another; the leader soon became the only source of permanence.
The levels of participation depended largely on how the families perceived the administrative and institutional gains made by the committee. Since the majority of families did not know one another and committee meetings provided the only venue for interaction, the four or five organizers constituted the only source of permanence for the organization at this time. In 1986, after three years of meeting in the park, a change occurred in the working dynamics of the committee. President Oscar Arias’s electoral promise to build 80,000 houses during his administration caused the number of participating families to swell.
In this sense, it is not accurate simply to speak of a strategy aimed at controlling them. Tapping their ingenuity and pragmatism, these organizations searched for relations that would permit them to meet their immediate interests while retaining their own decisionmaking power. Retaining their decision-making power, however, was not always easy. The government of Oscar Arias imposed a series of conditions under which the committees were expected to operate. By promising to address their demands but at the same time threatening not to help those groups that did not accept their conditions, the government succeeded in prohibiting public protests and land invasions.
Community Power & Grassroots Democracy: The Transformation of Social Life by Michael Kaufman, Haroldo Dilla Alfonso