“Autonomy is the institutional form of academic freedom and a necessary precondition to guarantee the proper fulfilment of the functions entrusted to higher-education teaching personnel and institutions.”
                                                                      
(Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, article 18, UNESCO)

Consider the case of Rafael Avendaño. In November 2016, he was expelled from the Medical School of the Universidad Bolivariana in Mérida for changing the channel. Literally. The TV in the common room had been tuned to VTV the main chavista propaganda outlet when he dared change it. “If you’re not in line with the rules of this establishment and the revolutionary process” he was told, “you know what to do.”

And just like that, he was gone.

These are just some of the findings of recent reports like El pensamiento bajo amenaza, published by the Universidad de Los Andes’ Observatorio Derechos Humanos (ODH-ULA) in collaboration with six Venezuelan universities, and additional research issues by Aula Abierta, illustrating the steady erosion of Venezuelan universities’ autonomy. They shed light on the regime’s modus operandi in creating parallel institutions, violating the rights to free speech and academic freedom while threatening and killing students, or illegally detaining them and their teachers.

It’s rather simple: knowledge, and free access to it, are deeply threatened in Venezuela today.

As disturbing as Avendaño’s, is the case of the two students who were detained by SEBIN after photos of naked women in labor chucked away in a waiting room of a government controlled hospital went viral.

“If you’re not in line with the rules of this establishment and the revolutionary process” he was told, “you know what to do.”       

Also, in November last year, UNEFA, the Armed Forces Experimental University, decided to open a disciplinary proceeding against Leonardo Isaac Lugo. His charges? “Offending public moral and traditions, expressing his opinion in public and acting against the interest of the country, the university, and himself.” Leonardo’s crime was wearing a bracelet saying “Capriles for president,” from Henrique Capriles’ 2012-2013 campaigns.

The regime is on a constant lookout for dissidents trying to fracture the revolutionary image of the utopian society, the most surprising of which was back in May, when we saw former Health Minister Antonieta Caporale, releasing data of the horrid reality in infant mortality and malaria; after years of silence. She was, of course, fired.

The ungrateful

“You’re all so ungrateful – how can you sign such a thing, against a government that has given you so much?”

A transcribed account, published by Aula Abierta, of a conversation between a psychology student and a clerk working for the public scholarship FUNDALOSSADA, describes how the regime leans on students’ precarious finances to intimidate them.

The issue arose during the 2016 unsuccessful push to gather signatures for a recall referendum a procedure clearly set out in the Venezuelan constitution. Without warning, the fund chairman, Luis Pérez, announced he would “withdraw” 896 already granted scholarships. All 896 had been granted to students who had signed the petition to convene a recall vote. The clerk told students the only way the decision could be rescinded was if students formally withdrew their signature from the Recall Petition.

“We will only consider those who choose to delete their signature,” Pérez said.

In other cases, students were threatened with losing their government subsidised food a vital lifeline to the poor if they refused to withdraw their signatures.

Again and again, the government’s line is clear: you must choose between your conscience and your belly.  

“Autonomy what is it good for?”  

Yes, that’s what he said. The recent statements of the Minister of Higher Education are yet another threat to academic freedom. “Autonomy should be used for creating people at the service of the motherland” he continued.

Before Chávez came to power, Venezuelan universities had a long history as houses of refuge for ideological dissidents. Not only a place for freedom of thought, but a place to hide after throwing Molotov cocktails. The police was legally barred from setting foot on campus. Indeed, a number of current top officials got their start as university radicals, shielded from law enforcement by their institutional affiliation. Now, the dramatic accounts of violence by paramilitary forces, National Guard and police forces on campus reveal a regime that has little time for such niceties.

The specially protected status of autonomous universities is set down in the ‘University Act’ (Ley de Universidades), a fundamental part of the historical structure of Venezuelan universities for almost 40 years. In the wake of Misión Sucre, though, the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela was created in 2003 and a birth-process of public universities with explicit socialist ideology began.

As a means of consolidating the chavista agenda in the realm of education and research, Misión Alma Mater was established in 2009, for “strengthening popular power and constructing a socialist society.”

Misión Alma Mater was designed to bring a mass of new students into the university system, without academic criteria, conditioning the way of thinking in students and professors.

An anonymous researcher for Pensamiento Bajo Amenaza adds that “Misión Alma Mater was designed to bring a mass of new students into the university system, without academic criteria, conditioning the way of thinking in students and professors.” Later, came the concept of “The Teaching State” (Estado docente), defined in “Ley Orgánica de Educación (LOE).” The government assumed the authority to regulate, supervise and hegemonically control the basic and fundamental structure of education.

The ideological control of thought and curriculum is especially strong within the so called experimental universities. Working at the National Experimental University for Security (UNES), the researcher tells me “I saw how students were forced to write poetry praising the work of president Chávez, or make sculptures of him to exhibit in the main hall. Even ‘El Plan de la Patria’ is a mandatory course.”

Parallel lines

Since 1998, the regime has been in a constant quarrel with reality. Their “branching out” in education has been extensively and aggressively subduing the aforementioned autonomy. The rapport by ODH-ULA refers to this as a ‘parallel structure’ described as:

“A parallel system created by the government to avoid formal structures and traditional institutions acting against their interests. For example: in Venezuela there is an Association of Rectors of Autonomous Universities (AVERU), but the government allowed the creation of the Bolivarian Rectors Association (ARBOL); two organizations with similar structure, but not the same objective, the second is designed to weigh the decisions and actions that AVERU can take, always favoring the ruling party.”

Between 2012 and 2015, the Supreme Tribunal rendered 43 rullings concerning electoral processes in both student and teaching bodies of autonomous universities, clearly violating the right “to make decisions regarding its internal government, finance, administration, and to establish its policies of education, research, extension work, and other related activities,” as stated in “The Declaration on Academic Freedom and Autonomy of Institutions of Higher Education,” signed in Lima, September 10’th, 1988.  

Withholding information – for the sake of La Patria  

On February 21st, Santiago Guevara, professor at Carabobo University, was taken into custody. He wrote a small piece for a Spanish newspaper calling out the “Cubanization” of the government and was subsequently charged with treason. According to Aula Abierta, 15 professors and 339 students have been detained arbitrarily between April and July of this year, during peaceful demonstrations.

The brain drain is not merely a question of bright people crossing borders. It’s also a regime terrified of people that know too much, and prefers to jail them for being thought-criminals. Students, researchers, teachers, and doctors pose the same threat: exposing truth.

The regime has been desperately trying to eradicate free thinking for 18 years now, and although current circumstances seem bleak, they have not been successful. People are still sharing images, writing the truth, thinking and asking questions. But at a great cost.

Since he was jailed, Professor Guevara has lost 25 kilos. And his clock is already ticking.

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Kristoffer is in many ways an odd sight in Caracas. Many mistake his blond curls for a surfer, but all he is, is a danish “catire” trying to understand Venezuela.

9 COMMENTS

  1. In the past most states were Patrimonial , all things belonged to the monarch and his relatives , to a bloodline dinasty , for their use profit and enjoyment , then was born the modern state , the res publicae (common wealth) , in which all things belong to the Public , to an entity that includes the whole free adult population of a country , Saudi Arabia is a patrimonial state , all resources belong to the Reigning family , but in the rest of the world public resources and wealth belong to the People understood as the whole population of a country .

    Because as a practical matter the people as a whole cant directly exercise control over the common wealth , systems have been developed historically so that some people exercise that control over the common wealth for the benefit of all the people , as their representatives or agents . Thus for example the democratic model of government .

    Even if under this model of government ruling magistrates are appointed by a mayority of the voting population, the common wealth must be used for the benefit of all not for the benefit of those politically supporting the election of those ruling magistrates . Political affiliations however can become tribalized , so that a political factions sees itself as being anointed with the privilege and right to make use of the common wealth for the sole benefit of its members , this is the case of the Psuv in Venezuela and the regime that it has spawned .

    All public resources in Venezuela dont belong to the Venezuelan people as a whole but to the ruling members of the governing faction , so that if someone recieves any benefit from the common wealth , from the pool of public resources it is a gift ,a recompense handed to people who affiliate themselves to the ruling faction for their loyalty to those in power.

    The incident mentioned in the above article signals our transformation from a res publicae to a kind of monarchical system where only the members of the Psuv tribe or dinasty have a right to the public wealth and all others are excluded from it !! We are back to a patrimonial system where the public goods belong to the ruling clique and its followers but to no one else.

    • This happened three years before Ch. Impressive. He was working behind the scenes to take over the country. Ch was just the right fit or the right puppet. The opposition leadership is crowded with people similar to the ones that signed the so-called “manifiesto”.

      • The 80s and 90s generations of Venezuelans were abominable.

        The last couple decades of the 4ta was marked by a radicalization of the leftist speech contrarianism and anti system anti establishment in the general populace and student movement.

        Academia played a big part of it and is no wonder a lot of chavista leaders are former encapuchados and UCV radicals.

        Some businessmen as Boulton and some media people as Granier also played a big role endorsing Chavez and promoting that kind of virulent comunist populist propaganda as part of pop culture and constantly bashing the democratic governments of the time, most telenovelas at the time were about maids in barrios and well meaning malandros who were just victims of society.

        A lot of people digged their own graves, or as they say, cria cuervos y te sacaran los ojos. But younger people and the student movement from 00s forward are victims that were never on board to suffer for what the last generation created and on top of that are used as cannon fodder to solve the issue and protest against a system they did not choose while the older guys just stare at their navels after causing this much harm.

      • Venezuelans have always been ’embelequeros’ , people who love getting frivolously enthusiastic about novelties and flashy celebrities without giving it any deep thought , we are irrepresibly fun loving and dont care much about whether the things we celebrate really deserve it . Gardel , Kennedy, Castro , The Pope they all get the same treatment . Bad singers , Bad actors , mediochre writers they get acclaimed to heaven whenever they reach our shores……wathever their real merits or lack thereof…!!

        • Venezuelans affair with the far and populism goes way back and is something much more sistemic thana flimsy whim of the times.

          That actually sounds a lot more akin to the US americans, today they have their panties in a bunch about venezuela, couple of years ago was ebola, and i wonder what happened to kony. I guess they are busy being nazis and communist now and figthing reptilian globalists

  2. No matter where we look at Venezuelan society today, what we see is people in slavery. This speaks badly of the regime which enslaves but also of the people who allow it to happen. In democracy Venezuelans used to be very demanding of the government. In dictatorship they have shown to be – in general – very docile. Only a middle class remains defiant. The working class and the very rich have been enslaved, the poor by the need to survive, the rich by the greed to become richer. A country with only seven million of dignified people lacking galvanizing leadership can not even try to shake off their chains.
    Wanted: a Spartacus.

  3. Kristoffer, great article, but I suggest you dye your blond surfer curls to a darker/safer color for writing this/walking around Caracas.

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