On the weekend of Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 May, over 600 commune activists representing dozens on communes in the state of Mérida in the Venezuelan Andes met to build greater links between themselves and to advance their movement for community self organisation and production, what they refer to as “people’s self government”.
The movement has its roots in community organising stretching back years or even decades, however in the last few years it has entered a new phase, with new communes currently being formed across Venezuela.
Communes are formed out of groups of community councils, which are small neighbourhood organisations representing 250 – 400 families in which local residents organise to develop their local community and run community affairs. They can also receive public funds to undertake a variety of projects in their area.
Communes meanwhile are formed when an election in which all local residents can participate is held to elect spokespeople from each community council in the area to form a communal parliament, which has different sub committees and covers community affairs over a larger territorial zone. The commune can thus take on larger scale tasks and responsibilities than individual community councils. They can also register with the Ministry of Communes, which makes them eligible to apply for public funding for productive, educational, cultural, infrastructure or other development projects.
Many communes also organise within the independent National Commune Network and meet to build links between each other, including for the exchange of goods and services. The Ministry of Communes employs activists to facilitate the formation of communes, however criticisms are also often raised by commune members that some public figures and institutions have been slow to recognise and support the commune movement and its work.
The images below record the VII meeting between commune activists in Mérida state since the recent impulse to form new communes began. Commune members met to discuss the “economic war” and productive issues, as well as holding working groups on communication, security and defence, political education, and organisation. Youth members of communes also met apart to discuss issues specific to them.
The meeting came ahead of a national meeting of communes to take place this weekend in Lara state, where at least 3,000 activists representing different communes are expected to be present.
A full report of last weekend’s meeting will be published on Venezuelaanalysis.com later this week. Photographs and text by Ewan Robertson.
The weekend meeting was held in the small town of Mesa Bolivar, situated on a plateau in the foothills of the Venezuelan Andes. The first activity on Saturday morning was a march through the town followed by a general assembly in the town centre. Commune members displayed banners representing their individual commune, as well as political slogans and banners belonging to the National Commune Network.
The town band led the march.
A commune activist marches.
The town of Mesa Bolivar, with the church and the main square on the right.
The town is situated on a small plateau with slopes rising up from and falling down from its sides.
The commune members met in an assembly where initial announcements and cultural activities were held. The United Socialist Party (PSUV) state governor and two local PSUV mayors also attended, as well as representatives of several state institutions, such as the National Land Institute and the Ministry of Communes.
A spokeswoman from one of the four communes hosting the event welcomes those present.
A representative from the India Caribay commune in Mérida state, Neris Mendez, holds up the commune’s new land title, awarded by the National Land Institute. Three communes were transferred lands that day, which is part of a policy to transfer land to community organisations for the development of their productive and agricultural projects. India Caribay plans to plant crops, fruits, and construct a fruit processing plant with public financing.
Various cultural activities took place, such as this traditional dance.
A woman plays the saxophone in another traditional dance.
Registrations for the event. Over 600 attended.
Youth members of the India Caribay commune.
On Saturday afternoon commune members met in five simultaneous working groups in order to develop organising mechanisms and design solutions to key problems and challenges. This meeting, on security and defence, was held with the presence of Mérida’s state governor, Alexis Ramirez, and representatives of the armed forces and police.
A commune member explains the security situation in the commune’s local area and how police forces could improve their performance there. Communes also proposed ways to participate in the discussion and implementation of policing activities, and agreed a mechanism of communication with Mérida state police and security forces.
The working group on political education. Key problems, solutions and decisions are written on the wall behind the speakers. A committee was also elected to help implement decisions taken, such as for all communes in Mérida to hold a cultural / sporting day in the next two weeks in which a session could be held to study and discuss the laws on communes, communal councils and the national constitution.
Commune members also chipped in for the preparation of breakfast. On Sunday a plenary session was held to share agreements made in the working groups with all commune members present, and make final decisions on the implementation of those agreements to further advance commune organising and activities in Mérida state.