Representatives of 74 communes—institutions of popular power elected from grassroots communal councils—from across Venezuela gathered in Lara state towards the end of August to participate in the inaugural National Assembly of Communes.
The meeting of more than 300 commune activists was held to try to strengthen the connections between different communes in a range of areas. This includes linking up productive micro-projects, communicational initiatives and educational networks.
It also discussed current challenges to the communal movement, territorial defence plans and the push to build a “communal state” — as called for by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez. Given recent widespread problems in state-run public services, the discussions included how to incorporate public services such as water, electricity and rubbish collection under the communes’ purview.
The assembly was convened and organised by the El Maizal Commune and the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), and was held in the communally-controlled university installations of Sarare in the Simon Planas municipality of Lara state.
Representatives were present from communes from several regions, including Lara, Apure, Barinas, Tachira, Merida, Yaracuy, Falcon, Carabobo states and Caracas. The initiative was organised independently of the national government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Five members of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) were present, including prominent El Maizal spokesperson Angel Prado.
There was also representation from the campesinos who recently marched 435 kilometres to meet with Maduro in Caracas, as well as from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) and Argentina’s Patria Grande movement.
Communes are conglomerates of communal councils, which were launched in response to an initiative by Chavez to empower local communities and devolve power to the people.
Communes are being built across the country. The Ministry of Communes said there are at least 2500 communes registered, with differing levels of organisational capacity. Some of the better organised communes, such as El Maizal in Lara state, are working with neighbouring communes on creating a “communal city”.
ANC deputy Orlando Zambrano told the gathering: “We have to pass onto the offensive.”
While communards have received wavering support at times from the Maduro government, including a pre-electoral visit to a communal gathering in Lara state, tensions have often arisen between often local government officials and representatives of popular movements.
However, those present at the gathering were quick to express their support for Maduro, with Prado proclaiming: “Behind all of this [initiative] is Chavismo!”
The final declaration of the gathering, which also reiterated its support for the government, likewise endorsed Maduro’s recent economic measures, which include tying wages to the price of a barrel of oil, raising VAT and income tax, reordering gas subsidies, launching a revalued currency and eliminating exchange controls.
The declaration also identifies a series of challenges for the popular power movement, including the supply of productive materials, the granting of communal land rights, the fight against state bureaucracy in the communal arena, and the transfer of powers to the communities, especially over public services.
The activists also identified the need to create space for dialogue between communal spokespeople and the national government.
“We see how [the government] has created spaces for debate with businessmen/women, bankers, importers, but not communal leaders nor with other sectors of the organised people,” the manifesto reads.
In closing, the communards stressed the need for pro-government grassroots movements to come.
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