Monday, March 13, 2006

Power to the People 

With seven years under its belt and the forces of reaction defeated (at least for now) the Venezuelan government is now finally starting to implement some key components of its "revolution". One component of the revolution finally about to get off the ground are the Community Councils.

Popular participation in government and decision-making is codified in the Venezuelan Constitution. To date that participation has not gone beyond being a theoretical construct. But later this week it will take a big step towards reality with the National Assembly passing the Special Law on Community Councils (Lecc). These councils are meant to be community-based organizations that operate along side local governments with their own elections, leadership, and budgets. Councils will be organized throughout the country with one per 400 families in Urban area and on per 20 families in rural areas. For a Council to actually be constituted at least 20% of the local populace must participate in it. The Councils have a Citizens Assembly, a Work Committee and a Fiscal Oversight Committee. There are already about 8,500 in existence and by 2007 there are to be about 50,000.

This is not the fist attempt at creating local councils. In 2002 the National Assembly passed the Law of Local Councils for Public Planning (Lclpp). Those committees were to be set up in all localities and were to correspond, on a one to one basis, with local elected governments and where to work in collaboration with mayors and town councils to oversee public projects. In practice they didn't work as independent local bodies as most of them were taken over by the localities mayors. The various attempts to unseat Chavez by the opposition also put these councils on the back burner.

Under the new law the Community Councils will be independent of local government. This will hopefully allow them to be genuinely participatory bodies rather than the instrument of politicians. They will have their own budgets of about $14,000 each for 2006 with which to carry out projects that the council members deem important for the community. For 2006 the government has budgeted about $500 million dollars for their work. There is also a special presidential commission that is to work collaboratively with the councils and give them technical assistance.

Watching these organizations get up and running should be one of the interesting developments over the next couple of years.


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