Venezuela: Socialists push for popular power


Pedro Alvarez is the candidate for mayor of Campo Elias, in the state of Merida, for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — a party established by President Hugo Chavez with the aim of uniting Venezuela's mass revolutionary movement to construct "socialism of the 21st century".

Alvarez spoke to James Suggett from about his vision for a new type of local government in which the communities have direct involvement and control over the decision-making process.

What is your plan for Campo Elias if elected?

Our central platform is the construction of socialism via the construction of popular power. Popular power cannot continue to be a slogan, like what we see now in some ministries.

We see it put up on the walls, the people repeat it, but it is not exercised. On the other hand, we come with the willingness to transfer the administration of the municipality to the people.

One of the best examples is popular organisations like the technical water committees, through which US$6 billion is being managed in order to solve fundamental water problems.

The lack of potable water and the difficulty of transporting it are historic problems in this municipality. Of course with capitalism, it was not possible to make aqueducts and piping if these did not have the specific requirements that permit investment to be recuperated.

However, for us, with the people, it is fundamental to provide this service without placing importance on how much it could cost the state. The purpose is to guarantee that the majority of inhabitants have access to this important public service.

This is one of the best examples that we are living in a revolution, are advancing toward socialism and are willing to transfer power to the people.

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We also hope to strengthen the technical energy committees. Some neighbourhoods in this municipality are seriously affected by poor electricity flow.

Sometimes the problem is production, other times it is distribution.

We hope to give all possible support to the water and energy committees, and of course to what we hope will be the fundamental pillar for our construction of the process of government: the communal councils [grassroots bodies based on between 200-400 families where the highest decision making body is a general assembly].

The work of the government should be planned and discussed through the communal councils, and the councils should make the proposals pertinent to solving concrete problems, such as infrastructure and social problems.

Our government is going to focus a lot on social issues. Before fixing a pothole, we prefer to solve a social problem such as housing, a sick child, or solving educational problems.

We are going to strongly attack insecurity. For this, we need popular participation through communal councils. We will build security from all different perspectives, from police intelligence to crime prevention, and uniting this with programs linked to health, education, and sports.

By going through the people we can resolve problems, and this is the only way to solve problems.

We plan to break down all the classic structures of the municipal government. We have every intention of destroying them.

We would like, for example, to not have city councillors. They are a useless organising system. We would rather that municipal ordinances come from a grand assembly of spokespeople of the communal councils.

It is legally established that there be city councillors, but we are not interested in even the figurehead of the city councilor, because it does not make sense.

We prefer to substantially strengthen the communal councils and from there create popular power, and give people the necessary means of participation.

The fundamental proposal is to destroy the municipality as we know it — as being a colonial entity that has existed since the Spanish colony. We cannot construct socialism with a colonial structure that serves the interests of big capital.

The communal councils are where our social, political and organisational action will be. Organising the people from the bases, we can guarantee that we are going to construct socialism.

Is your plan for Campo Elias similar to that of the Torres municipality in Lara, where Mayor Julio Chavez organised a constituent assembly and transferred power over 100% of the municipal budget to the communal councils?

Yes, that is an emblematic example. We have been studying it and we want to advance toward a socialist municipality. We are willing to organise a constituent assembly.

However, for this to be effective, one has to demonstrate the willingness to begin to govern in this manner. That is to say, giving people in the first two years the opportunity to learn what we are talking about.

To do this, we propose our concept of a participatory body of communal council spokespeople to make decisions, rather than the city council.

We plan to transfer the resources, power and responsibility to the communal councils, so that there is municipal government and more of the community.

Through the councils, we will be able to see more clearly the mindset of all the inhabitants of the municipality. And, in this way, we could think about, in two years, calling a referendum that presents the opportunity to have a new municipality with different parameters than those that legally exist in Venezuela.

That is, the socialist municipality that comrade Julio Chavez is creating.

This year, a conflict arose between the workers and the owners of a waste treatment plant in Merida. Also, trash is an important problem in the municipalities of this region. How do you propose to resolve these problems?

We have been following this tremendous problem very closely. A capitalist business used the form of a cooperative, which is also capitalism, and in the same way expropriated the work of the comrades who worked in the waste treatment plant.

A family enriched itself through the work of about 130 very humble people, who were like pawns on a large plantation.

Beyond this, we have a grave problem of garbage. Legally, we are within a commonwealth of four municipalities, and incredibly in this structure we have not been able to solve the problem of garbage disposal.

In Campo Elias we do not have a site where we can dump our garbage. But what we can do is move forward on a project with the communal councils to separate our garbage. We believe that recycling is a tremendous opportunity to diminish contamination.

We could, with the councils, work on a special program to collect and classify garbage. This would be an example to the rest of the municipality of how we can diminish the volume of pollution, and how the community benefits from this.

Also, the community could benefit from the reuse or sale of separated garbage. The organic waste can be used for compost or fertiliser. The glass, metals, etc. can be recycled or reused and, while reducing contamination, become a source of income for the communal councils — so they can strengthen their social and environmental programs.

What effect do conflicts near water sources in municipalities upriver from Campo Elias have on water policy in your municipality? For example, I am thinking of the conflict over the development paradigm in El Vallecito and the PDVSA complex that was to be constructed along the Mucujun River.

We have some similar problems here. The Las Canalejas sector could be developed agriculturally, and we know that agricultural production, like in El Vallecito, can bring pollution, with industrial fertilisers and chemicals, etc.

We should move forward very carefully in two ways. One, we must assure the fundamental maintenance of the water sources that can give life and are essential to the maintenance of the city.

This will be prioritised over the interests of capital, cattle ranching, production, etc.

Just as the people in El Vallecito have organised to impede the development of housing, large-scale urbanisation and industry, we in Campo Elias are also willing to do the same.

There is a proposal being carried out in the isolated communities in the southern towns [of Merida] where there are very clean water sources. Bringing this water to [the capital of Campo Elias] Ejido implies a large investment, but it is possible now that we have the support of the national government.

We will carry out the most detailed studies before doing it, to Campo Elías have potable water to consume.

This plan will permit us to avoid our current dependence on the Mucujun River, which the inhabitants of Merida also depend on. If anything were to happen to the Mucujun, we would all lose our potable water.

To avoid this dependence, we are thinking about taking water from other sources, and, through volunteer work in exchange for housing, reforesting the river banks.

We have a very extraordinary housing plan, it has been spoken about a lot, it is called Petrocasas [a new state company that uses petroleum to produce housing material].

It is an efficient and cheap solution to the housing problem.

We are not asking for money for these houses. We are exchanging the houses for volunteer work, and one of the volunteer jobs is to plant trees along the river banks. Each person who receives a house should plant a minimum of 100 trees.

This way, we can guarantee clean water for at least 50 years by having a clean environment that permits us to subsist in our municipality, which is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Merida.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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