Mérida, April 17, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) has passed a bill to create a National Communal Parliament (PCN).
The legislation approved on Tuesday aims to set up a body made up of communards elected directly through the country’s local grassroots organizations. The number of communal parliamentarians and election rules will be set up by the country’s electoral authorities.
“The National Communal Parliament is an instance of protagonist, democratic and decision-making participation towards the direct exercise of popular sovereignty,” the still unpublished text seen by Venezuelanalysis reads.
The competencies laid out for the new assembly include “deliberating” on matters related to communal structures, holding the Ministry of Communes accountable and proposing laws concerning popular power to the National Assembly. The PCN will in turn respond to committees elected by local instances.
Luis Marcano, president of the AN’s Commune Development commission, stated during the legislature’s session that the PCN “is an instrument to fight corruption and bureaucratism while boosting mechanisms for communities to solve their own issues.”
The text received 257 favorable votes in the 277-member legislature, with the minority opposition bloc arguing that the law violates the Venezuelan Constitution. Its approval follows the Law of Communal Cities which looks to regulate the functioning and competencies of higher instances of popular organization.
The two bills, which had been identified as a priority by President Nicolás Maduro during the AN electoral campaign in late 2020, will now be open to debate in order to incorporate suggestions from grassroots movements.
Former President Hugo Chávez conceived the commune as the “fundamental cell” for the transition towards socialism in Venezuela. According to the 2009 Communes Law, these instances integrate communal councils, social movements and other local organizations and can, in turn, be aggregated to form communal cities, federations and confederations. All instances elect spokespeople and have an assembly as their highest decision-making body.
Chávez was also critical of ministers and high-ranking figures for not being focused enough on the communal project, with the “commune or nothing!” demand in his final political speech becoming a slogan for popular power organizations.
After great progress in their early years, communes and social movements were deeply affected by the years-long economic crisis, with worsening living conditions, migration and reduced state funding among the factors leading to lower political participation.
However, grassroots activist and AN substitute deputy Oliver Rivas told Venezuelanalysis that the new legislative initiatives can open spaces for popular movements to make their contributions and debate on how the state should be structured.
“In El Recreo parish (Caracas) we have had several meetings with communal council and commune spokespeople, discussing not only the law’s content but its underlying logic,” he added while calling on all popular movements to do the same.
Reinaldo Iturriza, who served as minister of communes in 2013-2014, agreed that any effort that focuses on popular power organizations is positive since these are “the beating heart of the Bolivarian Revolution.” Nevertheless, he warned that the legislative efforts needed to be part of an “integral approach” in light of what he described as a top-down tendency to sideline communal councils.
“There has been a trend from state and party structures to treat communal councils with suspicion, as opposed to a vehicle to democratize the Venezuelan society” he told Venezuelanalysis.
When asked about fears that the legislation could subordinate grassroots organizations to the National Assembly, Rivas explained that the laws can make the legislative body an expression of the popular will, but that it requires struggle.
“These laws embody an idea of what a popular and revolutionary democratic exercise looks like, but it does not happen by decree,” he concluded.
For his part, Iturriza welcomed the public discussion surrounding the two bills but argued there should be “just the same emphasis” in generating debate surrounding the government’s economic policy.
“The economy is the top priority for everyone right now,” he stated. “Reforms to the hydrocarbon law, the land law, among others are currently on the table, and the Venezuelan people should be called upon to discuss this.”