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Documentary: on the Comuna experience in Venezuela


A film by Dario Azzellini & Oliver Ressler
94 min., 2010

“We have to decide for ourselves what we want. We are the ones who know
about our needs and what is happening in our community”, Omayra Peréz
explains confidently. She wants to convince her community, located on
the hillside of the poor districts of Caracas, to found a Consejo
Comunal (community council). In more than 30.000 Consejos Comunales the
Venezuelan inhabitants decide on their concerns collectively via
assemblies. Omayra is supported by the activists of the nearby
shantytown “Emiliano Hernández”, which has had a Consejo Comunal for
three years already. The inhabitants there managed to get a doctor from
the governmental program “Barrio Adentro”, who treats everyone free of
charge. They also got money to renovate their houses and replaced over a
dozen of sheet iron huts by new houses. All of these activities and a
lot more have been organized via the Consejo Comunal. By local
self-organization from below several working groups have been
established on self-decided topics and decisions are made in assemblies.

Several Consejos Comunales can form a Comuna and finally a communal
town. The film “Comuna Under Construction” follows these developments
throughout the hillside of the shantytowns of Caracas and the vast and
wet plains of Barinas in the countryside. The councils are built from
below and alongside the existing institutions and are supposed to
overcome the existing state through self-government. In an assembly for
the construction of the communal town “Antonio José de Sucre” Ramon
Virigay from the independent peasant’s organization Frente Nacional
Campesino Ezequiel Zamora (FNCEZ) reminds the delegates of the
participating Consejos Comunales: “Even if we definitely need the
government agencies at the moment, we have to be independent tomorrow
due to our development. We cannot depend solely on the state forever.”
For this reason the councils are to establish own structures of
production and distribution in order to achieve autonomy.

The assemblies are a central element of the film “Comuna Under
Construction”. The film starts off in the well organized Consejo Comunal
Emiliano Hernández located in one of the shantytowns of Caracas. It then
shows the intentions of forming Comunas and a communal town in rural
Barinas and ends in Petare, a gigantic shantytown of the agglomeration
of Caracas where there are 29 Consejos Comunales intending to build the
Comuna of Maca.
Is it even possible to bring together state and autonomy? Every one of
the Consejos Comunales spokes-persons has positive as well as negative
experiences with the institutions in store to talk about. In an assembly
in Petare the grass-roots activist Yusmeli Patiño blames a high
government representative: “We are losing our credibility because of the
incompetence of the state institutions”. But there are also members of
the institutions who make a big effort to accompany the basis in making
its own decisions. The relation between the basis and the institutions
is marked by cooperation as well as conflict. But the Consejos Comunales
also have internal difficulties; participation has to be learned.
Progresses as well as setbacks mark the difficult process of people
actually taking the power of deciding on their own lives and environment
by themselves.

Original Spanish version with German and English subtitles available.

Concept, film editing, production: Dario Azzellini & Oliver Ressler
Camera: Volkmar Geiblinger, Oliver Ressler
Sound, sound editing, supervisory editor: Rudi Gottsberger
Production assistant: Adriana Rivas
Image editing: Markus Koessl, David Grohe

Grants: Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur;
Kulturabteilung der Stadt Wien; Stiftung Umverteilen; Rosa Luxemburg
Stiftung; Solifond der Hans Böckler Stiftung; Fraktion die Linke im
EU-Parlament; Bundestagsfraktion die Linke; Netzwerk e.V.

Check out the film online at

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