October 5 , 2007

The Cubanization of Venezuelan schools

By Maria Elena Salinas., September 30, 2007.

There have been plenty of signs that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is poised to take over as the anti-imperialist leader of the Americas, a position until now held unofficially by ailing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. It is now evident that Chavez is no longer trying to take baby steps toward an authoritarian regime, but rather huge leaps, diving into the socialist pool headfirst.

With the new school year this fall came Chavez's latest bomb. He warned private schools that they either introduce a new curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education that includes the new concepts of "Bolivarian socialism" -- or, as he likes to call it, "socialism of the 21st century" -- or face being shut down.

If you don't know what socialism of the 21st century means, you are not alone. Everyone else -- probably including members of Chavez's inner circle -- is still trying to figure it out. As far as how he wants to implement his governing style in the country's education system, there are hints of it on the Education Ministry's Web site.

Bolivarian education is described as "developing a creative potential, valuing work ethic and active participation, consciousness and solidarity with the social transformation process." Those are the pillars of the new system, according to Chavez.

But for the nongovernmental agency Education Assembly, which claims to have had access to a draft of the new education plan, the document will attempt to indoctrinate the new generation by, among other things, presenting a new vision of Venezuela's history, one that excludes or reinterprets what transpired from 1830 to 1998, before Chavez came into power, describing it as an era that created an underdeveloped capitalist country.

Olga Ramos, head researcher and president of Education Assembly, told the BBC in an interview that the new curriculum will try to justify in the students' eyes the revolutionary changes in the country beginning in 1999. She claims that when referring to world history, the new curriculum only refers to liberating revolutions as those that were of a socialist or communist nature. When referring to ideological movements, textbooks will describe Marxism, Leninism and Chavez's socialism of the 21st century, and will refer to capitalism as the dominating mechanisms of the "Empire."

Another document accessed by the media shows that pre-med education will include speeches by Fidel Castro as recommended reading and will describe people like Argentine revolutionary leader Che Guevara and the head of Colombia's main rebel group FARC, Manuel Marulanda, as being among Latin America's most important thinkers.

Chavez's critics are accusing him of politicizing education, but the Venezuelan president defends his new plan, condemning the existing education system as "repressive." "The old education is a repressive tool that promotes consumerism and hatred for others," said Chavez in one of his recent television programs. He added that education based on capitalist ideology has corrupted the values of the children.

In warning private schools of their imminent closure should they not comply with the new curriculum, Chavez claimed that even though their existence is contemplated in the new constitutional reform, they must respect and adopt the new educational system.

"If necessary we will close schools, intervene, nationalize them and assume responsibility for those children," he claimed.

There was no such warning after the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959. Within a year and a half, Cuban private schools had been nationalized and a new curriculum had been set in place that linked the entire history of the island to Fidel Castro's insurrection against right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista. Cuban children were forced to stand watch over symbols of the revolution in apparent "solidarity with the social transformation process." Small nuances seem to be what marks the difference between Cuban communism of the early '60s and Venezuelan socialism of the 21st century.

Maria Elena Salinas is a syndicated columnist. Reach her at

Copyright © 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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