Estimations of the number of communes in Venezuela have been surpassed, as 1,150 communes registered in a national census last weekend.
“[This] is a reaffirmation of what is set out in the Constitution of the Republic. It is the participatory and protagonistic democracy that is more alive than ever, despite what the doomsayers say,” declared Minister for Communes, Reinaldo Iturriza to state television channel VTV yesterday.
The communes were registered as part of a national census of communes and community councils. The figure likely includes both already established communes and those under construction.
The aim of the census is for the government to find out how many community councils and communes exist in Venezuela and to ensure the accuracy of official statistics on community organisation.
According to Minister Iturriza, the census is also “qualitative” and part of the national executive’s effort to assess progress in the construction of participatory forms of community planning in the country.
Census registrations took place using a free software system in over 1,200 schools and Infocentros (free government-run internet cafes).
As of Sunday afternoon 31,670 community councils, 16,005 social movements and 1032 “social battle groups” had also registered. The final numbers are likely to be higher, with queues remaining in some centres and possible plans to extend census efforts in more geographically isolated areas.
Mary Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Pedrera II community council in the city of Maracay, Aragua state, launched a call for those community councils which had not yet registered in the census to do so. “Let’s all do community work and work in a team to reach socialism from below,” she exhorted on VTV.
President Nicolas Maduro lauded the census as a “tremendous event” through his twitter account. “Fascism is defeated with work and the concrete advances of grassroots power, everyone to concentrate forces on the communes now!” he wrote yesterday.
Community councils in Venezuela are grassroots bodies where local residents manage public funds and undertake projects promoting community development. Communes, meanwhile, are formed by groups of community councils, and can take on larger scale projects and public works.
The director of information and technology systems for the Ministry of Communes, Feijoo Jimenez, explained to ALBA Ciudad radio last Friday that the government is pushing the formation of communes as a means for communities to “administer their own resources, projects and activities”.
According to the official, it is hoped that this will help combat corruption and bureaucracy in representative forms of local government and overcome a “wearing out” of the Bolivarian movement.
The Ministry of Communes has also launched a website, “Inside the Commune”, which features testimonies of commune activists and shares information about experiences of communal organisation in the country.
Communes Minster Iturriza said that the website had been created “so that the Venezuelan people know about the realities of people’s power, its achievements, mistakes and projects, pushed forward by these fighting men and women, [who are] creators of the Communal State”.
Other initiatives which have been advanced to support participatory democratic forms in Venezuela include the creation of a TV channel for communes and a presidential commission to ensure that each ministry has a policy focused on directly attending to the communes in construction.