Last week Hands Off Venezuela and the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle, with help from our colleagues in Halifax, the National Council of Latin American and Caribbean Women in Canada, and the Venezuelan Consulate in Toronto, were able to bring to Toronto one of the most creative leaders of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution, Julio Chávez. He is not related to President Hugo Chávez, but is often referred to in his country as “the other Chávez”.

Julio Chávez came to give Canadians a very clear message — that the people of Venezuela have assumed control of their natural resources, their government, and their destiny by taking it — through clean and transparent elections — from wealthy elites, clients of global capital, who had marginalized the great majority of Venezuelan for the past 40 years. Venezuelans are creating a new state, one based on peace, human rights (both civil and social), and participatory democracy, which they call Socialism of the 21st Century.

Julio Chávez demonstrated these points, not by talking of generalities, but by explaining in detail an example of this transformation: the changes he was a catalyst to in his own hometown of Carora, where he was mayor for four years. Carora is a town of about 100,000 people in the northwestern part of Venezuela, rural, agricultural, and cattle country. For centuries, its municipal affairs were in the hands of a handful of families but in 2004, Julio Chávez became the first mayor to be elected by a landslide with votes of the majority of the humble people of the area.

He immediately realized that there was a disconnect between the municipal laws and ordinances, and the spirit and letter of the 2000 Constitution. That constitution was established by the national government of President Hugo Chávez through a uniquely participatory process that involved the election of a constitutional assembly, with a broad inclusion of diverse sectors such as rural workers, indigenous peoples, women, environmental groups, and workers. Julio Chávez set out to emulate this constitutional process in his municipality. He called forth a municipal constitutional assembly, which re-wrote all municipal laws and policies to coincide with the principals and letter of the national constitution.

Today, Carora is the model for a new, participatory, socialist municipality that embodies the new Socialism of the 21st Century, that Venezuela hopes will profoundly change the bourgeois state. Its basic unit is the Communal Council, composed of 200-400 families in any one locality. The Communal Councils determine the community’s needs, receive the funds for, and execute projects to meet them. These councils are united in Territorial Communes which come together to exchange information, and determine the needs of the broader region. All the Communes meet in a general Assembly of the Communes, which ultimately determine the policies of the municipality. It is especially important to realize that even the municipal budget is determined and distributed by this Assembly. Indeed, it was the creative and participatory nature of the municipal budget process that elicited most questions when Julio Chávez spoke.

We were energized and uplifted by Julio Chávez, and remain hopeful and optimistic that a new and better, more equal and peaceful world is being built by the Venezuelan people.