Caracas, Venezuela, February 7, 2006—Amid criticisms of centralization of power by the executive branch, Venezuela takes another step toward participatory democracy with the announcement of Bs 2.2 billion (approximately $1 billion) in funding for community planning councils, according to the Venezuelan state news agency ABN.
Community Planning Councils are, “possible because there exists a constitutional base that motivates citizens to break paradigms, be co-responsible and initiate actions necessary to promote popular participation,” Jorge Luís García Carneiro, head of the Ministry of Popular Participation and Social Development told ABN.
Thus far, there have been seven pilot municipalities whose 3,700 community planning councils have initiated 653 projects, García Carneiro said. By next month, 17 more municipalities are expected to form community planning councils, and the councils are expected to spread progressively until they are active in all 335 municipalities in Venezuela.
“The community planning councils are basic units of planning where the people form, execute, control, and evaluate public policies,” said Jorge Luís García Carneiro, head of the Ministry of Popular Participation and Social Development, which is charged with the program, in a January press release.
The possibility of creating community planning councils is established in the Venezuelan Constitution passed in 1999 and in various laws passed since then.
Freddy Gil, an organizer of community councils for the mayor´s office in Sucre, one of the pilot program areas, told Australia’s Green Left Weekly that in his area, the councils, known are designed to be autonomous nonpartisan groups made up of 200 to 400 families that have the power to make decisions over local issues.
Councils will have members elected by the communities and elections will be advertised by local volunteer “social promoters” the Australian newspaper said.
During the first Mobile Communal Cabinet meeting, where Chavez and various of his ministers visit communities to hear project proposals for central government funding, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that the federal government will provide half of the funding for the projects, and that the other half will be provided by city and state governments.
“I’m not a centralist, I’m polycentric; I bet on local development, all over the country equally,” said Chávez, who called the councils “popular power, constituent, original, and organized.” Chávez has repeatedly been criticized by Venezuelan opposition groups, and the US government, of centralizing power through the 1999 constitution, which was approved by referendum, and through the National Assembly’s decision to expand the number of Supreme Court judges and to weaken appointment procedures.
The local planning councils are not the first participatory decision making bodies to have been set up in Venezuela. Initially councils were set up at the municipal rather than community level. According to critical analysts, these resulted in, at best, very limited success because of the size of the regions of the councils, inconveniently divided districts, problematic division of resources, and the council’s limited decision-making power.
See also Participatory Democracy in Venezuela, parts 1-3: