Venezuelan National Assembly Passes New Education Law


August 14th 2009, by James Suggett – Venezuelanalysis.com
“Yes to liberatory education,” says the sign of a pro-law demonstrator outside the National Assembly on Thursday (ABN) Mérida, August 14th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) — The Venezuelan National Assembly passed a controversial new Education Law shortly after midnight on Friday morning, following a twelve hour marathon legislative session and a day of heated street protests both for and against the law.

Throughout the day, legislators argued and revised each article of the law, which is of organic nature, meaning it has the highest possible legal stature under the constitution and is required by the constitution. The final version was officially sent to President Chavez for approval minutes before three o’clock Friday morning.

According to National Assembly Vice President Saul Ortega, the law’s objective is “to guarantee our people a free, accessible, liberatory, and secular education that definitively guarantees teacher stability and autonomy.”

One of the controversial parts of the law is that it strengthens the role of the state in education. Article 4 states that is the responsibility of the “Educator State” (Estado Docente) to guarantee “education as a universal human right and fundamental, inalienable, non-renounceable social duty, and a public service… governed by the principles of integrality, cooperation, solidarity, attentiveness, and co-responsibility.”

The National Assembly approved the first draft of the law in August 2001. Over the past eight years, legislators held extensive “street parliament” sessions, or public discussions of the law’s content with teachers unions, political parties, regional and local government officials, and other educational and civil society groups.

Over the past several weeks, opponents and proponents of the law, including student groups, educational organizations, and political parties marched to the National Assembly to turn in their proposals and objections, and were frequently received by legislators. On Sunday, the full text of the law proposal was published in several national daily newspapers.

The second round of formal discussions began at two o’clock on Thursday afternoon in an extraordinary session of the National Assembly, which is now almost entirely comprised of supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Hugo Chavez, since the opposition chose to boycott the National Assembly elections in 2005.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, thousands of teachers, union leaders, community activists, and militants of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) marched to the National Assembly in support of the law. In a smaller march led by high profile opposition politicians near the National Assembly, opponents of the law demanded that discussions of the law be further postponed.

When the metropolitan police intervened to keep the two groups of demonstrators from clashing, tear gas canisters were thrown and several people were injured. Leaders of both marches blamed infiltrators from the other side for the violence as well as for the tear gas. Also in Caracas, unidentified assailants attacked and injured twelve journalists from a news network as they protested against the law.

In Nueva Esparta state, opponents of the law reportedly approached the state educational administration building as though they were going to peacefully turn in a list of proposals for the law, then suddenly attempted to force their way into the building, but were physically impeded by educational personnel.

On Friday, fights broke out and several people were injured in the capital of Merida state as proponents and opponents of the law demonstrated near the main plaza.

According to a statement emitted by Communications and Information Minister Blanca Eekhout, the national government “categorically rejects” all acts of violence on both sides and calls for the peaceful resolution of disagreements “in the realm of ideas, by way of constructive dialogue.” Eekhout confirmed that the national investigative police, the CICPC, are investigating all incidents.

In recent months, powerful opposition groups, including the association of rectors of Venezuela’s major public and private universities, all major opposition parties, much of the privately owned media, some teachers unions, and the Catholic Church waged a vicious media campaign against the law, in some cases asserting that the law will bring the country a step closer to totalitarianism.

Opponents alleged that the law is anti-democratic because it was not subject to enough public consultation. They also said it threatens religious education and the family, and politicizes the classroom. In June, radio commentators falsely reported that two articles in the law would permit the state to take children between the ages of 3 and 20 away from their parents for socialist indoctrination.

In response to the allegations, Education Minister Hector Navarro fervently denounced the lie that the state will be permitted to sequester children, and repeatedly pointed out that the procedures taken by the National Assembly for the discussion and passage of the law were fully in line with the national constitution.

The Minister said the opposition’s claims are not only incorrect, they “form part of a campaign that seeks to generate fear in the population.”

Also in response to the allegations, several National Assembly legislators and some less intense opponents of the law cited numerous articles in the law which support the role of the family as part of the educational community, establish that religious education must be carried out privately and not in public schools, and expressly prohibit political propaganda in the classroom.

Several leaders of the National Workers Union (UNETE), Venezuela’s largest labor union confederation, praised the law for expanding protections for teachers as well as laborers in educational institutions, and for establishing more democratic university admissions policies.

Vladimira Moreno, the national secretary of professionals and technicians for the Venezuelan Communist Party, said the law “has included a significant participation of the Venezuelan people: Communities, teachers, foundations, people’s collectives, students, and universities.”

The law also “opens important spaces for people’s power… so that it participates actively and in a co-responsible manner in the educational process, by way of comptrollership and social, popular control over the administration of resources,” said Moreno.

The new law stipulates that several further laws of a lower legal stature must be passed to govern specific areas such as university education and teacher rights and responsibilities. Thus, the debate over how to structure Venezuela’s educational system is not over.

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