Pro-Chavez lawmakers approve 'socialist' education bill

Law orders schools to base curricula on what it calls "the Bolivarian Doctrine."

Chavez supporters attack journalist 248. (photo credit: AP)
Chavez supporters attack journalist 248.
(photo credit: AP)
Lawmakers loyal to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave final approval on Friday to legislation that has raised fears among government opponents of impending socialist indoctrination in schools. The law orders schools to base curricula on what it calls "the Bolivarian Doctrine" - a reference to ideals espoused by 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, such as national self-determination and Latin American unity. Critics are quick to note that Chavez uses the term "Bolivarian" to describe his political movement, and some believe his socialist government intends to win over hearts and minds through classroom indoctrination. "They don't use the word 'socialism,' but that's what they want to introduce in our schools," said Ray Gonzalez, a 59-year-old engineer. The National Assembly's only dissidents walked out of the debate hours before the final vote to protest the ruling party's refusal to compromise on the bill's most contentious articles. Pro-Chavez lawmakers continued to discuss the law, approving it article by article Thursday evening until giving it final approval early on Friday. "We decided to withdraw because they did not accept our proposals or recommendations," said Juan Jose Molina, one of the unicameral legislature's few dissidents. The 167-seat assembly became entirely pro-Chavez after the opposition boycotted the 2005 elections, but close to a dozen lawmakers have since broken ranks with the powerful ruling party over what they perceive as the president's increasing authoritarianism. Supporters of the law generally scoff at claims that it's aimed at indoctrinating children and downplay concerns, saying the legislation reflects the government's efforts to ensure equal opportunities and teach social responsibility. The law, they note, requires that teaching be "open to all forms of thinking." Education Minister Hector Navarro accused Chavez opponents and the news media of orchestrating "a smear campaign" to deceive Venezuelans. The debate over the education bill stoked tensions between Venezuela's fierce political foes, producing rival demonstrations Thursday outside the National Assembly in downtown Caracas that ended in violence. Police in riot gear used tear gas and water cannon to break up the protests, but scuffles between adversaries continued amid the caustic, white gas and ensuing commotion. More than a dozen injuries were reported. Shortly after police scattered people outside the assembly, the Ultimas Noticias newspaper reported that a group of journalists were attacked a couple of blocks away by Chavez backers as they passed out leaflets warning against the law's emphasis on teaching "critical analysis of media content." Thirteen people were injured, said Eleazar Diaz Rangel, the newspaper's director. "They shouted at us, saying we were 'defenders of the oligarchy' while they beat us," said Usbaldo Arrieta, one of the people attacked. Benjamin Scharifker, dean of the Simon Bolivar University, said one student suffered a broken arm during the protests outside the assembly.