Panel 3: “Cooperatives” Questions and Answers

A translation of the questions and answers session from the panel: “Cooperatives: Diagnosis and Solutions in Building Economic Democracy," held at the first global PROUT conference in Caracas at the end of July.

Panel 3, “Cooperatives: Diagnosis and Solutions in Building Economic Democracy.” Translation of questions and answers. July 8, 2011. Facilitator: Gustavo Fonseca. Listen to the audio file in English or audio file in Spanish. – Read the Spanish text.

Gustavo Fonseca: Let’s get to the questions and answers from the panelists. There are many questions. We have to choose some and there’s not much time. Here are technical questions specifically addressed to Professor Carlos Molina. There are two questions and I will synthesize them: “How do social property enterprises compare with the cooperative model and vice versa?” And the next one is , “Do you think the cooperative law covers all the needs of the cooperative movement? Are some modifications needed?”

Professor Carlos Molina Camacho: I think the current cooperative law of 2001 has a very positive aspect. It facilitates tremendously the creation of cooperatives. Look at the large amount of cooperatives that have been organized since the law was passed, 306,000 cooperatives legally registered. I believe this law has good aspects, and I think some other aspects should be changed.

One proposal I would make regards the great failure that we as cooperativists in general have had. I am not part of the government, and I suffer, I feel pain because of what is happening to cooperativism here, just as all cooperativists do, at the speed at which cooperatives have been organized with little education or training. Many cooperatives were organized to receive money, a bank loan that then disappeared, and when the money left, the cooperative members left, too. A lot of money has been lost. The National Office of Cooperatives (SUNACOOP) offers courses on cooperativism and at the same time supervises them. This is absurd. Like other government bureaus, SUNACOOP should simply supervise, control and monitor cooperatives. And they should create a separate institution dedicated only to the education and training of cooperativists. This is an important principle to guide a change of this law, to separate the supervision responsibility of cooperatives from that of a different institution created for the education and training of cooperativists.

Gustavo Fonseca: “How do social property enterprises compare with the cooperative model?”

Professor Carlos Molina Camacho: I understand that social production or social property enterprises are different from cooperatives, because they are obliged when they sign contracts with the government to give a percentage of their profit to help the community in which they are operating. I think it is good that all enterprises give part of their profits to help the community. This is a cooperative principle as well, the last of the seven cooperative principles: “Concern for community.” I think that if the cooperative law is modified in this sense to oblige cooperatives to also contribute part of their income to the community, then social production enterprises would not be necessary.

Gustavo Fonseca: Thank you very much, Professor. We have two questions for our dear friends from CECOSESOLA. “Where are your markets located?” And “How do you guarantee social security protection within the cooperative?”

Lizeth Vargas: In Barquisimeto we have three vegetable markets organized directly by CECOSESOLA, another one organized by Cooperativa Triunfo, and another one by El Carmen Civil Association. These are large vegetable markets where we sell vegetables, fruits and dairy products. Regarding social security, by law there is a social protection fund as Dr. Molina just mentioned. In addition we have been generating, thanks to our self-financing, social security. We have a health care fund to cover the needs of each one of us as they arise. Therefore, collectively, we do it according to needs suggested by our organization committee.

Gustavo Fonseca: Two questions for Professor Benito. “Don’t you think the main innovation should be a new model of human beings?” And “Do you think it is possible to apply in practice the concepts of good cooperative governance to other models, whether banking or other organizations?”

Professor Benito Díaz: It’s true, a new kind of human being would be an innovation, a calm human being concerned with the world where he or she lives. A cooperativist that follows the seven cooperative principles and that is guided by those values, is a new kind of human being. It would be a revolution if all citizens, if all human beings adopt this fraternal spirit of cooperative values.

There cannot be a cooperative without cooperativists, to copy the idea of the great Venezuelan educator Simón Rodriguez who said: “There cannot be a republic without republicans, nor a revolution without revolutionaries.” It’s time to work, for we are learning how to do it, how to co-exist and share in the development of these new human beings. Yes, it is possible. In this sense, it is necessary to do original research to know what there is to see and how we can transform it. We urgently need original research to prepare an action plan, because there is nothing more practical than a good theory based on reality.

Regarding cooperative governance, that’s part of the International Cooperative Alliance’s call for cooperative social responsibility. It is an extension of cooperative principles together with everything else. This is possible, necessary and convenient. This is cooperativist.

Gustavo Fonseca: Thank you very much, Professor. The last question goes to Dada Jinanananda. “What would be the ethical or spiritual input from a leader such as Patrice Lumumba of the Congo to social transformation?

Dada Jinanananda: The role of the ethical leader is to serve as a role model for his or her community. This is an internal model within him or her as well as how to act in society. We have seen that many cooperatives did not succeed due to the lack of an ethical vision. We can talk a lot about this. The problems of humanity today are due to both a lack of intellectual understanding and of leadership. But what is missing is the subject of ethics. As we say in Brazil, “they do not have chest,” meaning they do not have the courage to create a universal society.

Ethics is always linked to spirituality and to the inner self. Integrity is always linked to the will to act. If a person has no ethics, we cannot expect anything from them. Ethics comes not from the brain, but from the inner consciousness of each one of us. So we return to the subject of spirituality. Thank you very much.

Translated by Eugenio Mendoza and Dada Maheshvarananda