City Of Debates Moves Venezuela Towards Direct Democracy

Chavez to use citizens’ proposals as his new plan’s blueprint

In the past two weeks ordinary citizens from across Venezuela have been participating in thousands of public assemblies called Cities of Debates, in which community members submit and debate proposals that will form the basis of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s Socialist Plan for his new six-year term.

The Cities of Debates are being held on a daily basis in most of Venezuela’s public spaces.In just two weeks the government has collected well over 5,000 proposals from community members. They encompass everything from increased funding to health care and education to the construction of new public parks.

After winning a third term in October, Chavez promised to expand the role of community participation in the government through the expansion of the communal councils: a neighborhood based elected body that oversees local community projects. Along with the Cities of Debates, Chavez has said this is part of his goal of creating true direct democracy.

Some members of Venezuela’s opposition have attacked the communal council’s and the Cities of Debates as a move by Chavez to use them as front so he can take power away from the mayors and governors, many of whom are from opposition parties and political rivals.

But to Ramon Rodriguez, a communal council member, these policies have not only given people better access to community resources but it has also encouraged local citizens to be more responsible for their communities.

The debates will go on until early next month. After that, all of the proposals will be formatted into the socialist plan that Chavez will submit to the National Assembly in mid January.

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