[OPE-L] Communal Councils

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Apr 27 2006 - 08:35:14 EDT

From _Green Left Weekly_ via <www.venezuelanalysis.com>

    *Power to the People: Communal Councils in Venezuela*

For Chavez, the only way to get rid of poverty was to give
power to the people. On April 9, on Chavez’s weekly Alo
Presidente TV program, the Bolivarian revolution took
another important step forward with the enactment of a new
law on communal councils.

  By: Federico Fuentes - Green Left Weekly

Published: 26/04/06

With 80% of the population living in poverty, Venezuela’s
Bolivarian revolution, led by President Hugo Chavez, has
faced an enormous challenge. For Chavez, the only way to
get rid of poverty was to give power to the people. On
April 9, on Chavez’s weekly Alo Presidente TV program, the
Bolivarian revolution took another important step forward
with the enactment of a new law on communal councils.
According to the text of the law, communal councils will
“represent the means through which the organised masses can
take over the direct administration of policies and projects
that are created in response to the needs and aspirations of
the communities, in the construction of a fair and just
This is not the first attempt at giving people greater
control over the running of their communities. Several
years ago, the government attempted to make the Local
Councils of Public Planification (CLPP) a reality at the
level of the municipal governments. The idea was for
elected community spokespeople to work side-by-side with
the elected government officials to discuss the council’s
budget. Yet this project didn’t ever get off the ground,
largely because the political parties only gave
representation to fellow party members, turning them into
rubber stamps for the municipal council. It was also
difficult to have genuine election and control by the
community when spokespeople were expected to voice the
concerns of up to 1 million people in some municipal
Taking the idea of the communal councils from the CLPP law,
a pilot project was launched by a group of revolutionaries
who previously belonged to the Socialist League in the city
of Cumana. From there the concept was taken up nationally
and placed in the hands of the newly created Ministry for
Popular Participation and Social Development (MINPADES),
which explained in its information pamphlet that “just as a
house can collapse easily if its base is not sufficiently
strong, this can also happen to our new democracy that we
are constructing: it will only be invincible if its base is
strong and its base is the communal councils”.
Already more than 4000 communal councils exist, with the
projection for more than 15,000 to be active across all of
Venezuela by the end of the year.
Based on 200 to 400 families in urban areas, or 20 in rural
areas, the principal decision making body of a communal
council is the citizens’ assembly. All members of the
community above the age of 15 can participate in these
assemblies, which have the power to elect and revoke
community spokespeople to the communal council, as well as
put forward projects and a development plan for the
The citizens’ assembly is also required to set up a
financial management unit, a unit of social control to
monitor and watch over the work of the communal council, as
well as a variety of work committees, each with its
respective spokesperson. The aim is to draw upon voluntary
work by community members, along with promoting
cooperatives, in order to carry out the projects, relying
on the skills and resources of the community rather than
private companies or state bureaucracies.
Iruma Sanchez, the general coordinator of the Bolivarian
House in Petare, explained on the January 15 Alo Presidente
that the councils are not a substitute for existing
organisational forms, “because we already have land
committees, health committees, Bolivarian cirles, UBEs
[units of electoral battle], even party militants inside
the communities, but each of us carried out our work on our
own, doing in some cases the same work” but organised
separately. “So for us the communal council is the maximum
instance of planning, of organisation of the community.”
The law states that another task of the communal council is
to “promote the birth of new organisations wherever it may
be necessary, in defence of their collective interests and
the integral development of the communities”.
David Velasquez, Venezuelan Communist Party deputy to the
national parliament and president of the commission of
citizen’s participation, noted in an interview published on
the Venezuelan ministry of communications website that the
functions of the communal council also “go beyond the
management of resources to resolve their problems. Among
these is the recuperation of shut-down factories, because
in a great number of industrial zones — located in the
communities — there are abandoned buildings that belong to
companies, factories or commercial areas. They will also
participate in the full exercise of the defence of
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Venezuela through
the territorial guards.”
One part of the new law that has caused some controversy is
the autonomy the communal councils have in regards to the
existing governmental structures. In the initial law on
CLPPs, the communal councils were envisaged as the lowest
level of a national system that worked side by side with
all levels of government. Under the new law, a commission
will be responsible for monitoring and approving the
formation of communal councils, ensuring that they are set
up with real legitimacy. The pre-existing local and
municipal councils will have no power in relation to the
projects or funding of the communal councils.
According to the new law, the communal councils will be
funded by a new National Fund Company for a Popular
Government, which has already been allocated an initial
US$1 billion.
Chavez was quoted by Prensa Presidential on April 9 as
saying that the communal councils are “not about, as some
are trying to say, a parallel power, rather it is the same
power of revolutionary democracy”, adding that the work of
the communal councils needs to go hand in hand with that of
the regional and local authorities.
According to Velasquez, “the communal councils are
instances of constituent power that need to complement the
constituted power. These new institutions will strengthen
the new state apparatus that needs to emerge from the
Bolivarian revolutionary process. This would imply that we
need to restructure the functioning of the mayor’s offices,
municipal councils and local councils. If we want to create
a socialist society, we need to create a superstructure of
the state that is obedient to this new reality.”
This is the essence of the communal councils — a power
built from below becoming the foundations of Venezuela’s
new “socialism of the 21st century”. This move comes after
the complete victory of the Bolivarian forces in last
December’s national assembly election and as the
self-organisation of the masses continues to move forward
in leaps and bounds.

From Green Left Weekly, April 26, 2006.

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