Communal Councils - Venezuela
From the Wikipedia:
"In April 2006 the Venezuelan government passed The Law of Communal Councils (consejos comunales) which empowers local citizens to form neighbourhood-based elected councils that initiate and oversee local policies and projects towards community development. Communal councils convene and coordinate existing community organizations as well as promote the creation of new work committees, cooperatives and projects as needed in defence of collective interests and the integral development of the community.
The jurisdiction of each council is limited to a self-defined geography housing under 400 families, but unlimited in scope of activities within the community. All key council decisions are made via discussion and majority vote within a citizens' assembly with at least 10% of the adult community present. Councils are highly autonomous although they are often required to coordinate with municipal administrations and receive funds from various levels of government.
Communal councils are new models in a chain of experiments and parallel efforts towards participatory democracy and a new form of socialism under the banner of the Bolivarian Revolution led by popularly elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Over 19,500 councils have already been registered throughout the country and billions of dollars have been distributed to support their efforts." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuelan_Communal_Councils)
"Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s megalomaniac president who has spearheaded the country’s Bolivarian revolution and garnered so much attention, is not the only one shaking up the country’s political system. A community-based revolution is underway in Venezuela. Ordinary people all over are changing how their communities are governed.
In the past four years, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have been organizing tens of thousands of consejos comunales (communal councils). Each council is composed of about 150 families in urban areas, while in rural and indigenous areas, each council is composed of 20 and 10 families, respectively. The councils are involved in everything from road building and maintenance to cultural activities and events, housing improvements, and providing basic services like water and electricity—all while struggling for the official government recognition that provides the opportunity to get funding for their community projects.
Communal councils were modeled after participatory democracy in Kerala, India, and community budgeting practices pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil. In Kerala, citizens play an important role in conceiving and implementing development projects at the local level. Since 1989, Porto Alegre has successfully run a system of decentralized planning whereby citizens determine local spending priorities through a series of public meetings. Communal councils in Venezuela embody both of these municipal participatory reforms.
The councils are both Chávista and anti-Chávista; working-class and oligarchical. The former mayor of Carora, Julio Chávez, told Michael Albert of Z-Net and Greg Wilpert of Venezuela Analysis in September 2008:
The communal councils are an expression of the territory where people live, and within that area they are the natural leadership. In some communal councils, our candidates, ones supporting the revolution, were not elected, but instead anti-Chávistas were elected. In our area there is a communal council that belongs to the oligarchy, essentially. They aren’t with us, but they have invited us to meetings where we discuss their concerns.
The paperwork required to start and maintain a council is one of the greatest obstacles to communal council organizing. Completion of a multi-step process, including conducting a census and numerous elections, is required. Despite these complexities, councils have taken on government bureaucracy by creating a participatory model of governance that bypasses large institutions and municipal officials.
Local officials and bureaucrats feel threatened by this growing form of self-governance, which is fueled by billions of dollars from the central government. Of the many national Bolivarian social projects, the communal councils have arguably become the most popular and successful innovations of the Chávez administration." (http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6202/the_quiet_revolution/)
Status Report 2010
"Communal councils are an effort to combat Venezuela’s bureaucratic red tape and the corruption related to it. But they are also the latest manifestation of Venezuela’s long tradition of community activism and social struggle.
The councils were not immediately successful, given the challenges inherent to community organizing. The first attempt at participatory democratic reform was the 2001 institution of Bolivarian Circles. These neighborhood councils were largely viewed as electoral organizing arms of the Chávez administration.
Local Public Planning Councils (CLPPs) were next, but elected council leaders found it difficult to rub elbows with powerful public officials while representing districts which contained, in some cases, upwards of 1 million people. By 2005, most CLPPs were deadlocked and ineffective.
The third try has been the charm. Communal councils sprung up across the country in the wake of National Assembly legislation in November 2006. Their success is attributed to their more decentralized and democratic structure—each council is run by and serves a relatively small number of people.
Direct inspiration for the Law of Communal Councils was drawn from Cumaná, a coastal state capital located some 250 miles northeast of Caracas. In Cumaná, communal councils had been operating successfully because citizens were comfortable deliberating in small, community-oriented bodies. The Cumaná experience was translated into a national success story, as the number of officially sanctioned communal councils rose from about 21,000 in 2007 to 30,179 by 2009, with some 5,000 more slated for formation.
This organizing frenzy was accompanied by significant federal funding. Starting at $1.5 billion in 2006, funding for communal councils increased to $5 billion by 2007. That same year, laws governing the distribution of petroleum revenues were modified so that 50 percent of funds—the portion previously directed to state and municipal governments—went to communal councils.
Despite the abundance of financing, legislation limits each council to project spending caps of between about $14,000 and $28,000. The caps mean projects can do little more than pave a new road, so councils frequently depend on volunteer labor, a problem for impoverished communities. Still, councils are often able to rely on volunteers due to the councils’ popularity. A lack of competitive contracts for council work has also been a source of criticism from opponents of the government." (http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6202/the_quiet_revolution/)
- Documentary: “Comuna Under Construction”, 94 min., 2010
A film about local self-administration in Venezuela: In more than 30.000 consejos comunales (community councils) the people of Venezuela decide collectively in assemblies about many of their community's concerns. Several community councils can join and form a Comuna and various Comunas can build a communal town. These councils are built from below, parallel to the existing institutional framework and aim to overcome the existing State by self-government. The film “Comuna Under Construction” follows these developments in Caracas poor districts and in the countryside.
Detailed description and watch the film online at http://www.ressler.at/comuna_under_construction/
You can download a discussion about the film at the Nottingham Contemporary at http://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/event/geopolitical-turn (in the section “Downloads”)