From issue: Voices from the New Generation (Winter 2010)
The Municipal Reformers
"Precisely because our movement transcends borders, and because of our age, we feel that together we can change our hemisphere."
In a sunny afternoon last November, we went up into Barrio Unión de Petare, in the municipality of Sucre in Caracas, to inaugurate a community clinic and to celebrate Carlos Ocariz´s first year as mayor of Sucre. Walking confidently through the narrow streets to the sound of drums and trumpets pounding out a samba was a stark contrast to how we felt only a year before. We reminisced about our nervousness as we waited for the election results and the euphoria we felt after Carlos’ victory. It was, after all, the third time Ocariz ran for mayor of Sucre. Beating by 11 points the government’s candidate Jessie Chacón—with whom President Chávez himself made several public appearances during the campaign—was no trivial achievement.
What drew three young Venezuelan professionals like us to work in Petare, the second largest barrio in Latin America? The answer explains a lot about our country and our generation.
Petare is home to nearly 1 million people. It is a place where some 50 homicides take place each month and where a 15-year-old girl is more likely to be pregnant than in school. It is a mountain covered with cinder blocks and zinc sheet roofs. Petareños have virtually no opportunities to achieve their dreams of prosperity. Petare is the heart of Caracas; it is the icon of Venezuelan barrios. And it represents the Venezuela of the poor that fell in love with President Hugo Chávez in 1998 and remains loyal to him, despite the fact that their quality of life has hardly improved in the decade since his election.
A year ago, when our team in the mayor’s office came together, the first step we took to modernize the office was to collect statistical information about conditions in the municipality and analyze the data. From this we established that our priority was to improve social services, and to do that we urgently needed more resources. Security was also high on our agenda: we planned to increase police salaries, improve police equipment and reactivate our police academy, which had been closed by the previous municipal government.
The results have been encouraging. Today, after a 58 percent increase in revenues, homicides are down 25 percent from last year. We renovated 75 percent of the municipal schools, 33 percent of health clinics and 40 percent of sports parks. These results were possible thanks to the notable improvement of our team’s operational capability and the political commitment of its leaders...