Carora, September 10, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Farmers, industrial workers, community councils, students, local and national government officials, and international experts converged in an economic forum titled "Local Alternatives to Confront the Crisis of Capitalism" in the rural town of Carora in central Venezuelan state of Lara last week.
The purpose of the conference was to share information and articulate concrete plans for the construction of a de-centralized, non-capitalist economy in the context of the sweeping law-decrees signed by President Hugo Chávez in July, and to display the achievements already made by Carora's well-developed community council system.
"The forum permits us to advance toward the design of a plan for sustainable endogenous development, based on the 26 law-decrees, and to start to discuss the new forms of property and production proposed in the national development plan," Mayor Julio Chávez, the main organizer of the event, told Venezuelanalysis.
The forum was set in a rural town, not Caracas, because "we are not concentrating on the center of the country in Caracas, but rather we are advancing this profound transformation of the old state and the old structure precisely so that new actors and new realities emerge to construct another economy," said Mayor Chávez.
Residents of Carora and the surrounding municipality of Torres organized a constituent assembly to re-write the local constitution after Mayor Chávez was elected in 2004. Now, the Local Public Planning Council (CLPP), a legislative body made up entirely of the region's 540 community councils, controls 100% of the municipal budget and has become the political arena for local communities to collectively plan their economies.
At the forum Carora displayed the success of its system, along with its plan to overhaul the centuries-old territorial division of the municipality and draw new "communal territories" based on the type of production that is most prevalent in each zone.
In the lead-up to the forum, over 2,000 local producers gathered in working groups with the municipal government to discuss how to improve collaboration between local producers and local government institutions, invest in small-scale cooperative mines, introduce environmentally sustainable practices, accelerate the re-distribution of land, and expand locally controlled energy production and industry.
These local initiatives, which participants in the forum called "socialist," will be bolstered by the recent agreements Venezuela signed with Argentina, Iran, and China to exchange oil for technology and technical training.
Mayor Chávez said international guests were invited to the forum to deepen the collective understanding of "how the financial, agricultural, and energy crises of the international capitalist system impact our country and how alternative models of production have developed in other countries."
International guest Sofía Urbáez, the president of the Italian-Venezuelan public investment company Greta Investments, which is managed by an association of Italian and Venezuelan mayors, explained that Carora's political innovations would facilitate the "Pilot System for the De-centralization of Hydro-Environmental Services."
Through the project, Greta Investments plans to help Carora form a public water company managed entirely by community councils to ensure more equitable water distribution in the semi-arid zone, where historically the oligarchy hoarded water to their own mines and farms.
"The communities presented the project and its characteristics. We offer assistance for its construction," said Urbáez on Wednesday.
Three guests from the United States attended the forum. Economist Robin Hahnel and the founder of Z Magazine Michael Albert outlined key principles and processes to guide the transition toward a participatory and democratic economy. Sociologist Gregory Wilpert suggested that among the greatest obstacles to an alternative economy are psychological and cultural, and spurred discussion of ways to overcome these obstacles.
"Carora, I salute you," Hahnel said to 500 conference participants on Thursday. Hahnel emphasized that Carora is at the cutting edge of participatory planning and deserves worldwide admiration. "We must remember that we are facing a problem that has yet to be solved," he added.
Other international guests included student activists from the Dominican Republic and Spain, Argentine Labor Ministry Official Mario Perón, German-Mexican Sociologist Heinz Dieterich, and English Marxist Allan Woods, who spoke through video conference.
The forum was sponsored by the Venezuelan Finance Ministry, the state oil company PDVSA, the Ministry for Communal Economy, the Venezuelan Women's Bank, the Foundation for Capacity Building and Innovation to Support the Agrarian Revolution (CIARA), the Venezuelan Agrarian Corporation (CVA), the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S., and other federal entities.
The director of the Central Bank of Venezuela, Armando León, presented a detailed critique of the Neo-liberal development model on Thursday. "Reality has denied market fundamentalism," he said. "It is not true that the Washington Consensus is the only way."
Venezuela's alternative model allows space for markets but also promotes the participation of "new actors," emphasizes South-South cooperation, revitalizes the role of the state in the economy, and introduces new forms of communal, mixed, and collective property, León explained.
Echoing this, Mayor Chávez said the changes led by the community councils in his municipality reflect the "new geometry of power" proposed by President Chávez.