The Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) has opened a process to review and reform a set of laws concerning popular power.
During Wednesday’s ordinary session, the Socialist Party (PSUV) parliamentary majority approved to reform the 2006 Organic Law of Communal Councils which was later amended in 2009. The minority opposition bloc abstained from voting.
Early statements from lawmakers indicated that the changes aim to improve communal council autonomy and simplify the bureaucracy required to register the organizations. A consultation process will now begin to collect input from the country’s 49 thousand officially registered communal councils, as well as over 3 thousand communes and other social movements.
Lawmaker Blanca Eekhout, who heads the AN’s Commune Development Commission, explained that the legislation updates look to “systematize, harmonize and deepen” popular sovereignty. A parliamentary commission has already received a number of proposals and will draft new bills once the input from the consultation process is complete.
Besides the Law of Communal Councils, a number of closely related legal instruments are expected to be revised soon. These include laws concerning communes, cooperatives, communal economy and public planning, among others.
The AN session came on the heels of a televised broadcast featuring President Nicolás Maduro and Communes Minister Jorge Arreaza alongside other cabinet members and lawmakers. Likewise present were spokespeople from Caracas communes, including El Panal and Altos de Lídice.
Maduro claimed the legislative reforms were meant to “simplify” the juridical instruments and end “bureaucratism” in communal processes. He went on to question the role played by the government and other institutions when it comes to popular power.
“What are we doing wrong?” the president asked. “Where is the government, governorships, city councils, the State itself, failing to support popular power?” Maduro pledged more financial support and credit lines for grassroots movements and expressed confidence that 2023 would be a “year of growth” for the Caribbean nation’s economy and for communal organizations in particular.
For their part, commune representatives highlighted the work done in recent years amidst the harsh conditions imposed by U.S. sanctions and the economic crisis. They called for more support for communal projects and for more commitment from state institutions.
“The communards are the revolutionary subject of the Bolivarian Process,” El Panal spokeswoman Anacaona Marín said during the broadcast.
Our communes have produced food, science and dignity to confront the U.S. blockade.
Marín argued that the government should create communal production “exclusive areas” to boost grassroots efforts to go up against “the metabolism of capital.”
“We need a legal infrastructure and concrete plans to make it clear that the communes are not just a Chávez invention, but they represent the Venezuelan people as they live and breathe,” the Caracas communard concluded.
Communal councils were introduced by former President Hugo Chávez in 2006 as local units of grassroots organization, with democratically elected spokespeople and commissions for areas such as healthcare, education and public services.
In 2009, Chávez pushed forward the communes as the “unit cells” for the construction of socialism. Communes bring together a number of communal councils, as well as socially owned enterprises and other popular movements, to conform a basic structure of self-government in the territory. Its highest body is a citizen’s assembly.
The drive to reform the popular power legal infrastructure was brought up by Maduro during a visit to El Maizal Commune on October 20 on the tenth anniversary of Chávez’s final public address. Known as “Strike at the Helm,” the broadcast saw the former leader urge ministers and cadres to prioritize communes in the Bolivarian Process.
Community media collective Tatuy Tv published a report on efforts to change commune legislation in recent years that were not fulfilled. The National Constituent Assembly, an all-powerful elected body that legislated between 2017 and 2020, had pledged to give the laws constitutional status but dissolved itself without addressing the issue.
The Tatuy Tv document goes on to present different scenarios for the present AN-led efforts, including the possibility that no significant changes end up happening. The leftist outlet also floats the opportunity for popular movements to get thoroughly involved in the process and the danger that the reform might follow recent government policy favoring top-down organizational forms.