Caracas, Venezuela, September 19, 2006—Venezuela’s Ministry of Popular Economy (MINEP) piloted the use of social currency at a 3-day fair, inaugurated last Friday by MINEP’s new head, Pedro Morejón. Morejón, a representative of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s MVR party in the Venezuelan National Assembly, replaced Olly Millan as MINEP’s head last Thursday.
Ahead of the 4th School Fair for Popular Economy held in Caracas, employees of MINEP and four government bodies that form part of the ministry who have children at school were given printed color paper notes bearing the face of Latin American independence hero Francisco de Miranda. The mirandinos (‘little mirandas’) could be used to buy goods from any of the 270 government sponsored cooperatives from around the country present at the fair. The cooperatives then exchanged the ‘mirandinos’ for real money through MINEP.
Speaking to Venezuelanalysis.com, Rosa Mendoza and Paula Lopez, two members of the Las Arañitas textile cooperative in San Felipe, state of Yaracuy, said, “Everything has gone really well, the facilities have been first-rate and we have managed to sell a lot.”
Morejón said that the social currency pilot would be evaluated with a view to expanding its use to other government bodies. He added that the plan was to set up a system of barter and exchange with cooperatives, in order to work towards the establishment of socialist cooperatives. Since early 2005 the government has framed it polices in the context of working towards what it terms “socialism of the 21st century.”
Reinaldo Iturriza, head of MINEP’s communication unit, told Venezuelanalysis.com, “The use of social currency at this fair constitutes one of the first attempts at alternative forms of commercial exchange. For us the most important thing to bear in mind is that our horizon is governed by the need to transform the capitalist economy into one that puts people first.”
From the Political to the Economic Revolution
MINEP was created in September 2004, and is, according to MINEP literature, the body that will coordinate Venezuela’s transition from a capitalist economic model to a “social and sustainable economy.” To this end, MINEP is responsible for coordinating Mision Vuelvan Caras , a government program founded in January 2004 to combat unemployment and, more generally, poverty, and that is seen as key in providing the workers that will form the basis for this “social” economy. Lanceros, as participants in the program are known, receive support and training in a range of jobs in the area of production and services, with an emphasis on working within cooperatives. In addition, the government has funded the creation of over 130 NUDE (‘nuclei of endogenous development’), which are centers that house these new cooperatives, as well as other government welfare programs in areas such as health, education and food.
The number of cooperatives in Venezuela has increased significantly since Chávez came to power in 1999. According to Sunacoop, the government body attached to MINEP that oversees the cooperative sector, in 2005 there were over 100,000 registered cooperatives, with over 1.5 million members – about 10% of the country’s adult population. This represents an increase of over 1,200% in comparison to the 800 registered cooperatives in 1998.
Earlier this month, at a public rally to welcome Chávez home following an extensive world tour, Chávez announced that, should he be re-elected in December’s presidential elections, his government would follow seven strategic lines. One of these lines is the expansion of the socialist productive model, by which it is understood that he was referring to the ‘social’ economy, comprised largely of cooperatives.