Venezuela’s Chavez Signs Series of Laws Giving More Power to Communities
Communities organised into communal councils and communes are to be given increased power and access to funding under new legislation approved last Friday by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Making use of the enabling law power granted to him by the National Assembly in December 2010 in the wake of heavy flooding, Chavez approved a series of 11 far-reaching laws relating to communal government, tourism and housing. The laws were signed just 2 days before the enabling law was due to expire on Sunday June 17 in a Presidential Ministers’ Meeting in Caracas.
In an interview following the announcement, Vice-president Elias Jaua said that the new laws had been passed “for the people, for life and for the productive economic development of the nation”.
One of the new laws, entitled “Law for Community Management of Functions, Services and other Powers,” will open the door for organised communities to have greater responsibility in the running of local life and access to more direct funding from the government.
The new law comes under Article 184 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, which states that local and national government must progressively start delegating their responsibilities to Venezuela’s various local bodies of communal power.
Commenting on the new law, Venezuela’s Commune and Social Protection Minister, Isis Ochoa, said that communities would have increased control over the management of local services, as well as more input into Venezuela’s “changing” productive model.
“In this law, mechanisms are established through which community participation can take on functions such as the maintenance of public infrastructure, such as schools,” said Ochoa.
Legislating for People
The other laws passed include modifications to the country’s housing legislation to guarantee that all Venezuelans have access to mortgages in order to buy their homes, as well as the establishment of legal guidelines for state purchase of land for the government’s mass house building programme.
Changes were also made to national tourism legislation to make it easier for the government to invest in the country’s growing tourist industry, and the country’s agricultural laws were also modified in order to facilitate the granting of credit to small and medium sized producers.
Although already underway, the government’s “Knowledge and Work mission” which is hoping to see 3 million out of work Venezuelans trained and employed by 2018 was also officially written into law.
According to the new legislation, the mission is aimed at both women and the unemployed in particular, and is seeking to alter socio-productive relations in the country based around a “new organisational model” constructed through workers’ councils.
A law allowing the government to restructure and re-found the country’s criminal investigation body, the CICPC, was also passed as part of the 11 laws.
Penal Code Reform
In a previous Ministers’ Meeting on Tuesday, President Chavez also gave the go ahead for reform of the country’s penal code, which was passed to the National Assembly for approval last week.
Reform to the country’s penal code has been in discussion for years, with the country’s National Assembly approving reform of the law as early as 2004. Although the law was subsequently reformed in March 2005, provoking backlash from Venezuela’s opposition and human rights organisations, the reform law was then vetoed by President Chavez in August of the same year. According to the government, reforms to the law will mean that justice is carried out more efficiently.
Venezuelan Minister of Prison Services, Iris Varela, said that although reforming the law was not “the whole solution,” it would still act as a “fundamental tool” for combating weaknesses in the Venezuelan judicial system, as required by Venezuela’s Constitution.
Reforms to the law will prioritise ending delays in the national judiciary and the rehabilitation of prisoners. Municipal courts will also be created in a bid to end hold-ups in the judicial process.
The Republic’s Attorney General, Cilia Flores, also commented on the reform, saying that the government was responding to the population’s demands to “end impunity” and change a judicial model that was “accusatory” in nature and “crushed human rights”.
"The president is acting and working by obeying the people, who are screaming for this justice system to be transformed in order to end impunity,” commented Flores on the National Assembly’s radio station.
The new penal code is due to come into effect on January 1st 2013.
Venezuela’s political opposition has rejected both the new laws approved by decree and reforms to the country’s penal code, accusing the President of “smashing the State of law into smithereens” and the opposition presidential candidate, Capriles Radonski, charged Chavez with “burying participatory democracy” through his “imposition” of the laws.
Opposition sources also claim that the President is using the laws “unconstitutionally” to turn himself into a “dictator” and that changes to the penal code violate international human rights treaties.
The government has dismissed the claims as “lies,” pointing out that all laws by decree have been approved for the social benefit and increased political participation of the Venezuelan people, and not the centralisation of power in the Executive.
“No legislation took power away from official public institutions or violated the Constitution. All of the laws have been for the Venezuelan people,” responded Vice-president Elias Jaua.