I recently attended an organizing conference of the local water management committees in the city of Ejido, in the State of Mérida, Venezuela. There, I had the opportunity to interview Pedro Álvarez, the local candidate for mayor from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Álvarez spoke about his vision for a new type of local government in which the communities have more direct involvement in the decision making process. Álvarez says he would like to organize his municipality in a way similar to the Municipality of Torres, in nearby Lara state. He also addressed water-related issues in the region, which is located in the Andes Mountains and is a strategic national water source.
Pedro Álvarez, candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for mayor of the Municipality of Campo Elías in the State of Mérida, what is your plan for Campo Elías once you are elected?
Our central platform is the construction of socialism, overall by way of 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, it is not fulfilled. We, on the other hand, come with the willingness to transfer the administration of the municipality to the people.
One of the best examples is the technical water committees (Mesas Técnicas de Agua). We should confide greatly in popular organization. Through the technical water committees, 13 billion bolivars ($6 billion) are 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 dimensions that permit the investment to be recuperated.
However, for us, with the people, it is fundamental to provide this service without giving importance to 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 revolution, that we are advancing toward socialism, and that we are willing to transfer power to the people.
We in the municipal government hope, God willing, to strengthen not only the technical water committees, but also the technical energy committees. Some neighborhoods 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 technical 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 community councils.
The work of the government should be planned and discussed through the community councils, and the community 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 community 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.
Anyway, what we truly confide in is that by way of 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 councilors. They are a useless organizing system. We prefer that the municipal ordinances come from a grand assembly of spokespeople of the community councils who are the ones who say which type of ordinances must be carried out in the municipality.
As a mere formality it is legally established that there be city councilors, but we are not interested in even the figurehead of the city councilor, it does not interest us, because it does not make sense. We prefer to truly, substantially strengthen the community councils with all our will, and create from there 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 want to destroy it not in a physical sense, by demolishing it, but destroy it as an organizational structure, because we cannot construct socialism with a colonial structure that serves the interests of big capital.
Another fundamental proposal is to truly strengthen popular power from the base of the community councils. That is where our social, political, and organizational action is going to be. Organizing the people from the bases, we can guarantee that we are going to construct socialism.
Is your plan for the Municipality of Campo Elías similar to that of the Torres Municipality in the state of Lara, where Mayor Julio Chávez and the communities formed a constituent assembly and transferred power over 100% of the municipal budget to the community councils?
Yes, look, that is an emblematic example in Venezuela. We have been studying that case and certainly we want to advance toward a socialist municipality. We will be willing to convoke 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 the people in the first two years the opportunity to learn what we are talking about.
To do this, we propose that the administration of the municipality not be done through the city council, but by way of a participatory organ that should be a great assembly of spokespeople of the community councils who make the decisions.
We plan to transfer the resources, power and responsibility to the community councils, so that they be less of the municipal government and more of the community.
Through the community 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 eventually, in two years, calling a referendum, not a referendum for revocation [of the mayor], but a referendum that presents the opportunity to have a new municipality with different parameters than those which legally exist in Venezuela. This is the intention of the socialist municipality that comrade Julio Chávez is creating.
This year, a conflict arose between the workers and the owners of a waste treatment plant. Also, trash is an important problem in the municipalities of this region. How do you propose we resolve these problems?
We have been following this tremendous problem very closely. A capitalist business used the figure of the cooperative, which is also of 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, their employees, while they accumulated the resources.
Beyond this, however, we have the essential problem, which is garbage. This truly is a grave problem. 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 Elías 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 community councils to separate our garbage. We believe that recycling is a tremendous opportunity to diminish contamination.
We have already been moving forward on projects with emblematic communities in Campo Elías. We could, with these community 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. That is, the organic waste can be used for compost or to solve problems of fertilizer. The glass, metals, etc. can be recycled or reused and, while reducing contamination, become a source of income for the community councils, so they can strengthen their social and environmental programs.
What effect do conflicts near water sources in municipalities upriver from Campo Elías 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 Mucujún River.
We have some similar problems here. The Las Canalejas sector could be developed agriculturally, and we know that agricultural production, the same as in El Vallecito, can bring pollution, with industrial fertilizers 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 prioritized over the interests of capital, cattle ranching, production, etc.
Just as the people in El Vallecito have organized to impede the development of housing, large urbanizations, and industry, we in Campo Elías are also willing to do this.
To finish, there is a proposal being carried out in the isolated communities in the southern towns [in the southern region of the state of Mérida]. In the southern towns, there are very clean water sources. Bringing this water to [the capital of Campo Elías] Ejido implies a large investment, it is true, but it is possible, now that we have the support of the national government. Surely, we are going to carry out the most detailed studies before doing it, to guarantee that all the people in the Municipality of Campo Elías have potable water to consume.
We are thinking seriously about moving forward on this plan, which will permit us to avoid our current dependence on the Mucujún River, which the inhabitants of Mérida also depend on. If anything were to happen to the Mucujún, 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, reforest the river banks.
We have a very extraordinary housing plan, and everybody already knows about it, it has been spoken about a lot, it is called Petrocasas. 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 fifty years by having a clean environment that permits us to subsist in our municipality, which is one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state of Mérida. We expect that within 50 years the population will double.
Thank you very much, Pedro Álvarez, PSUV candidate for mayor of the Municipality of Campo Elías, state of Mérida.
 See interview by Michael Albert with the mayor of Torres Municipality, Julio Chávez: “Politics in Venezuela,” www.venezuelanalysis.com, September 24, 2008. (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3829)
 See “Venezuela’s Chávez Inaugurates New Socialist Production Centers,” www.venezuelanalysis.com, July 31, 2007. (http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/2526)