"Communes contravene the spirit of the Constitution"
"Could anyone who spends the equivalent of a month per year stuck in traffic claim not to be poorer than before?" "I have always held that the chaos experienced in Caracas has an underlying strategic objective; it is premeditated"
Architect Leopoldo Provenzali, who was the first Urban Planning Secretary of the Caracas Metropolitan Mayor's Office (2001-2004), believes that land organization based on communes contravenes the spirit of the Venezuelan Constitution.
The former president of the Cultural Heritage Institute (IPC) and retired professor of the Central University of Venezuela believes that, instead of pondering more territorial subdivisions, joint efforts by several municipalities as a whole need to be guided toward dealing with issues such as solid waste collection, planning, security and transportation.
-Now many claim that we are heading toward a communal State. What does that even mean?
-More centralization. Communes rely on and stem from central power. Whilst the Constitution calls for a decentralized system, a centralist scheme seeks social control through centralization of power.
-Are communes unconstitutional?
-If they are set to overtake the municipal system, then yes they are without a doubt. But, even if they do not replace the system, communes are based on a centralist model colliding with the spirit of the Constitution. The municipal system is highly flexible, and Caracas should be an example of handling municipalities jointly. It is not a new political issue. The Metropolitan Office for Urban Planning, in the 70's and 80's, originally envisioned a joint urban system.
-Why did it fail?
-It did not fail. From that initiative, the subway system and other transportation projects were born. It was forced to disappear, never to be replaced again. The reason it bore no further influence over the development of the city was that it had no allocated budget. Nonetheless, it paved the way for future generations by proving that Caracas may be viewed as a whole.
-Has lack of planning led to widespread chaos throughout Caracas?
-Amongst other things. But the chaos we see today is premeditated, encouraged from above.
-Why? How could the government benefit from urban chaos and lowering living standards?
-When the population is subject to martial law, it is socially controlled. A constrained individual, who solely goes from home to work and vice versa because he or she finds public spaces too hostile, is under duress. This is what I call strategic abandonment.
-How is it evidenced?
-In the way the Confinanzas building (downtown Caracas) was handled, for example; encroachment went unanswered. Chaos has become a focal point, filled with violence against ordinary citizens, and a means for social control. In reality, it has brought about more poverty for all.
-The government repeatedly claims that it has lowered extreme poverty indexes...
-Urban poverty rates are difficult to assess from a statistical standpoint. Reconceptualization is needed.
-And what new concept is proposed?
-The thing is that poverty has several dimensions, even more so in a city like Caracas. Do you think that anyone who spends the equivalent of a month per year stuck in traffic could claim not being poorer than before? There is a gross discrepancy between actual income levels and true living standards. Poverty does not have a single dimension; it is also a cultural issue leading to lower quality education, or a territorial issue, evidenced by urban overcrowding with insufficient utilities (indirectly affecting the whole city through higher crime rates and other factors). Poverty also ails emotional health and is not only depicted by statistics. Even the fiction of people's power is an indicator of poverty.
-Of course. Communal councils are politically biased. In the area of Chulavista (southeast Caracas), we have attempted to create a communal council since 2008, but (the Foundation for the Development and Promotion of the Communal Power) Fundacomunal has never processed our application. We are a plural universe of individuals, and those in power dislike that notion. Poverty is an expression of inequity and even entails degradation of institutions.
Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.