Planning in Venezuela's Communal Councils
"The government led by Hugo Chávez initiated a political process that is attempting to transform the inherited bureaucratic governance structure into a participatory socialist democracy. In making this transition, grassroots power is being exercised by local communal councils with support from the national government. This is considered a necessary factor in consolidating a participatory socialist democracy in Venezuela. Planners can be allies in the grassroots processes of empowerment and self-determination of local communities and active agents in the 'trickling-up' of participation to upper levels of government. The Chávez regime is attempting to install a revolutionary government in which central state policies aim to improve the conditions of the poor, while recognizing the importance of working upwards from and with local communities. This ongoing transition is enmeshed in many complexities and contradictions. Community organizing was institutionalized by means of key legal instruments, including the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela-written by a Constituent Assembly and voted on by Venezuelan citizens. After the failed referendum this year, however, the fate of local organizing remains unclear."
"Communal councils contain between 200 and 400 families in urban areas, and over twenty families in rural areas. All persons over 15 years of age may participate and be elected representatives. Once legally formed, these councils may obtain up to 30 million Bolívares (almost $14,000) to finance small production or service projects in the community. Less than a year after the law was passed, Josh Lerner reported in Z Magazine in March 2007 that there were over 16,000 councils throughout the country, and 12,000 of them had received funding for community projects-including almost 300 communal banks for micro-loans as well as for thousands of other projects, such as street paving, sports fields, medical centers and sewage and water systems."