Mérida, September 1st 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Yesterday, President Hugo Chavez announced the creation of a new bank card that can be used to purchase food at affordable prices in new community run supermarkets called “Biceabastos,” and to maintain accounts in a new system of communal banks linked to state owned banks.
The announcement was the latest step forward in the government-sponsored formation of communes as an alternative form of community governance. In the process, communal councils, which are community decision-making bodies grouping together around 100 to 400 families, link together into a broader form of organisation that includes community production and consumer needs.
The president made the announcement during a visit to the commune “Victoria Socialista” in Antimano, Caracas, accompanied by various United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Victoria Socialista commune unites 17 communal councils and provides a range of services to those communities, including a communal bank, a free internet centre, a community library, and a “biceabasto;” a name derived from Spanish words meaning Bicentenary Supply Store. All the services are run by the communal councils.
The commune will also have a Communal Bank Terminal (Tbcom) soon, where local community members can deposit and withdraw money and apply for loans. The first Tbcom was inaugurated two weeks ago in another part of Caracas. The initiative aims to help develop communal economies and to “bankarise” some of the more marginalised sectors where many people do not have bank accounts.
Victoria Socialista’s Biceabasto, named after liberator Simon Bolivar’s partner, Manuela Saenz, serves around 200 people per day, to benefit a total of 1,700 families.
Comparing the Biceabasto to a commercial shopping centre, Chavez said, “Here there’s no robbery, nor speculation,” but he emphasised that in the Biceabasto, the products were not subsidised, but rather had “fair” prices.
Chavez said that in two weeks the Biceabastos will have electronic terminals for people to use the communal bank cards, which will also be able to be used in other state owned food markets, such as the Mercals and PDVALs.
Chavez called the cards, “cards for living well” because they are for “necessary consumption, not consumerism.” The card will be supplied by the state owned Bank of Venezuela, which was nationalized in 2008.
According to the minister for commerce, Richard Canan, as of the start of August there were 21 biceabastos employing 4,345 workers. By comparison, there are 37,000 workers in the PDVALs, Mercals, and food houses. The government hopes to create 200 biceabastos by the end of the year.
The state run and community run food markets are part of the government’s “food sovereignty” strategy to guarantee basic food products to the population at affordable prices and to avoid the scarcity of certain items of food caused by profit-driven hoarding.
During his tour of the commune, Chavez also invited the community and television viewers to think about the creation of an urban agriculture law to facilitate the recuperation of urban spaces for planting food.
“We need to fill the cities with sowing, with urban agriculture… the cities need to be self-sustainable,” he said.
The National Assembly is currently working on a Commune Law to help govern the formation of the communes.