The 'battle against rubbish': how Venezuelans are organising to improve their lives

Anyone who has visited this giant city of some 6 million people will know that one of the major social problems here is basura (rubbish). For years, the complaints of the population have mounted, along with the piles of garbage in the streets. Now, the Venezuelan government and the municipal council have launched a drive to tackle the problem.

Caracas's "battle against rubbish" is an snapshot of how the Bolivarian revolution that is gripping Venezuela is helping to solve social problems by organising the community and investing in human development. With an initial investment of 15 billion bolivares (A$10 million), environment minister Jackeline Faria and the mayor of the Libertador municipality covering the Caracas central area, Freddie Bernal, on October 8 launched the campaign with the provision of 50 large bins for the centre of the city, with more to follow for surrounding suburbs, reported Ultimas Noticias.

Faria noted that the new equipment for Caracas is part of a commitment by socialist President Hugo Chavez of 141 billion bolivares (A$90 million) to tackle the problem of rubbish. The rest of the expenditure will be made in the period to December this year.

Bernal said the council had purchased 50 new, small garbage trucks, to service the barrios (neighbourhoods) surrounding the city. He added that they had bought 60 large, compacter trucks to collect the big containers, and that a further 1400 containers were to be placed in the suburbs. He noted that the council expected to collect 5000 tonnes of garbage per day, by December.

Bernal stated that the "battle against rubbish" would include social groups, the Communal Councils, ministries and the government enterprises. "The moment will arrive when Caracas should hold a big clean-up day each month, when businesspeople, stall-holders and public employees go out to clean up the city."

As part of the campaign, the municipality of Caracas held a clean-up day on October 14, involving 600 functionaries of the council, headed by Bernal, in a voluntary mobilisation to help city employees clear garbage from the streets of the inner city, under the theme that "The city is for all, not just the responsibility of the mayoralty and the government".

Victor Gonzalez, a community leader of the small barrio of Lidice, in the north-east of Caracas, believes the campaign against rubbish won't work unless it has the participation of the people. "In the same way that there were workshops on [the supply of] water, and also on electricity, we are proposing that there should be technical workshops on urban and household cleanliness", he told the October 14 Ultimas Noticias.

"Lidice was not planned for the deposit of rubbish outside [on the street, as now], it was designed that the collection would be house by house, as it was until the year 1993, when the service was privatised."

According to a document by Gonzalez, the first objective of a technical workshop would be to analyse the particular situation of each area, with the aim of reducing the waste to an absolute minimum. The technical workshops would be established to bring together "neighborhood associations, land committees, health committees, and whatever other expressions of the organised community exist in each municipality, and they would have to be integrated with the Communal Councils. Equally, they must be able to count on the participation of the responsible authorities, the mayor of the municipality, and the Greater Caracas mayor, who would be responsible for the collection and final disposal of the solid waste."

He proposes that the ministries of environment, natural resources, interior and justice, health and social development, defence, and education and sport, should be part of a "National Commission for the Integral Management of Residual Solid Waste".

The health ministry has recently established a project to form local cooperatives for environmental health and the collection and recycling of rubbish in Caracas.