The communes are not part of official government discourses. Nor are the two fundamental bodies created in recent years: the Presidential Council for the People’s Government of Communes and the National Communal Parliament. What are these bodies? What situation are they in? Why are they not named, and what will the National Constituent Assembly say with respect to this? Below is an interview with Jennifer Castillo, a commune activist and militant with the Revolutionary Bolivar and Zamora Current in Tachira.
What are the Presidential Council for the People’s Government of Communes and the National Communal Parliament?
The Presidential Council is the voice of the bloc of communes in each state, it is [the body] which advance, carries out, plans, controls and communicates the vision for a communal economy in each geographical area. The Presidential Council and the National Communal Parliament are not two different things but rather the unity of what is a big commune, self-government. These bodies have to be at the same level as the ministries. The Presidential Council should meet with ministers to develop government plans, something which has not been done. There were two attempts and then there was no progression.
These structures have given us a lot of benefits. One of them is the feeling of camaraderie that one communard activist feels for the other. When I talk about benefits, I’m referring to what one commune can do for another, for example, the exchange of crops, the solidarity economy. A commune that produces one crop can exchange with another. The exchange of knowledge, which is the driving force that the Communal Parliament needs through debate with the grassroots, trough open open assemblies, it legislates, that is the Communal Parliament.
In that same vein, we are creating rules for the functioning of a great communal company. These will be taken to all states, to all communes, to all communal councils, so that they can be debated until we have a document to orientate the norms of this system, the great communal transport system.
How would you describe the current situation of these bodies? Why do they not appear in the public agenda?
The current situation is full of disillusionment, there is not the same support [from the government], or the same enthusiasm as when we began the Presidential Council [in 2014]. There are a lot of projects, but they don’t go anywhere. The national executive was supposed to meet with us once a month but that has been forgotten. Likewise, parallel structures have been created alongside the Presidential Council, such as the Homeland Congress. But where are the communes? Because the communes are the fundamental nucleus where all communal councils are, where all sectors that live in a community are: campesinos, workers, sex and gender diverse groups, they are all present in the communes. At this moment, everything is visible except the communes.
They won’t put us in the public arena because of power interests. We believe that there should not be a parallel structure to that of the communes, because the commune has everything to solve the problems of the community. What has happened is that they have not been given sufficient value by state institutions. What keeps us committed to this struggle is because we recognize each other as communards in our own territories, we do not need institutional recognition.
The public agenda of Chavismo with all its structure should put its ear to the ground and listen: there are the communes, although it has been incredibly difficult to manage at a local level because of the lack of institutional support.
The National Communal Parliament for its part has been deployed much more. It is organized through networks which have traveled throughout nine states in the country and maintained permanent debate. It has collected signatures against the interference of the United States in internal affairs of the country. We have been to the foreign ministry in support of our homeland, we have been to marches.
What challenges do you see for the commune movement within the framework of the National Constituent Assembly? What should appear in the new Constitution?
One of the principle challenges will be to manage to restructure the communal movement through the national effort which we are carrying out to restructure the communes and the communal councils, and to help with their development plans and to accompany them in their struggles.
The National Constituent Assembly [ANC] must serve [the people] by establishing the sixth power, which is popular power, and in particular communal power. The commune movement has carried out debates over what should be established in the constitution, and one of its chapters must establish the responsibilities, rights and functions … of each body so it has the power to act. Furthermore, we have proposed that the communes receive a percentage of GDP which is destined to production in communal territories, so that the communes become self-sustainable in time.
We also believe that the capacity of each organization to defend its territory should be stipulated. We’re talking about the Bolivarian communal militia, and taking preventative measures because the militia is what will defend us when we need it. Likewise, the defense of sport, recreation, study, culture and environmental protections. The commune should protect the rivers, the nature within its territory.
All of this is a challenge for us in the commune movement, and it should be in the new constitution through the ANC. The twenty-four delegates that represent the communes have the challenge of raising these proposals that have emerged from the heart of the commune movement, so that they are in unison with the worker and campesino sectors, because all of these sectors are present within the communes.
Translated by Rachael Boothroyd Rojas for Venezuelanalysis.