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Venezuela: Discussing a New University Law

Central University of Venezuela. Image by Flickr user chocogato, usaded under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

Venezuelan public and student opinion is divided once again in the face of a new University Law. The reactions and results have been intense, complex and unexpected. A short time after the law was passed discussions for and against it exploded; and opinions are now shaken after a presidential order to veto the law. On one hand, it is said that the law threatens the academic autonomy and freedom of state universities. On the other hand, it is argued that the reforms open the door to new possibilities that would allow a more fair access to universities and will seal up the cracks that degrade the high level academic institutions in Venezuela.

Citizen media users have reflected several of the turns the discussion has taken. Among these: the rush to approve the law, the social injustices in the academic arena, the characteristics of the law in terms of the ideological thought in the universities, the presidential veto, and finally, the importance of an informed debate where the greatest amount of students, academic staff and general public participate.

For general information, the law is published in the blog, Viva la U. [es]

The blog Discusión de la ley Universitaria [es] (“Discussion of the University Law”) was created, where the following questions are asked:

¿Cuál es el Objetivo de la Educación Universitaria? ¿Quién debe recibir este nivel de educación? ¿Cuál es el papel del Estado y del Pueblo dentro de la administración de la Educación Universitaria? ¿Se debe elegir las autoridades Democráticamente con la participación de todos? – Reflexionemos – Participemos -

What is the objective of a university education? Who should receive this level of education? What is the role of the state and the people within the administration of the university’s education? Should the authorities be elected democratically with the participation of everyone? Let’s reflect, participate–

Regarding the acts involving the approval of the law, Martha Colmenares comments [es] on some of the expressed ideas in the assembly:

“¿Por qué una Ley como ésta se está discutiendo a las 3 de la mañana un 23 de diciembre de 2010?”, decía un diputado en la madrugada. Y así, en el proceso de sancionar toda clase de leyes por parte de la Asamblea Nacional conformada por el chavismo sin ser sometidas a la discusión de otros sectores (…)

“why us such a law being debated at 3am on December 23rd, 2010?” argued a congressman. And so, the process of sanctioning every law by the National Assembly conformed by the chavismo [pro-Chávez] without reaching out to other sectors (…)

In the same manner, David, in the blog Venelogía, writes [es]:

Lo primero es la inclusión en agenda legislativa de una serie de reformas y leyes polémicas, que la Asamblea Nacional justamente pretende aprobar antes del fin de su periodo (que sería en enero, justo antes de cederlo a una conformación donde la oposición participará luego de 5 años de ausencia).

The first thing is the inclusion in the legislative agenda of a series of reforms and controversial laws, that the National Assembly justly pretends to approve prior to the end of its time (which would be January, before ceding to a confirmation where the opposition would participate after 5 years of absence).

The blog El libre pensador [es] (Free thinker) points to two other aspects hotly debated about the law and what the blogger sees as “true or false” regarding the intentions of the legal reform:

Mentira: La LEU democratiza el voto para elegir las autoridades, ahora todos los votos cuentan por igual (…)Verdad: El voto en las universidades no se concibe de la misma manera que el voto para elegir al Presidente,  Gobernadores, Alcaldes o Diputados. Las jerarquías universitarias no nacen del voto, sino del dominio del conocimiento (…)

Mentira: La LEU fortalece la autonomía universitaria.

Verdad: De acuerdo con la LEU se asignan 76  competencias al Ministro de Educación Universitaria, las cuales le otorgan un control absoluto sobre las Universidades.

False: The [University Law] democratizes the vote to elect authorities, now all the votes count the same (…) Truth: The vote in the universities is not conceived the same as the vote to elect the president, governors, mayors or congressmen. University hierarchies are not born from votes, but rather from the control of knowledge (…)

False: [The University Law] strengthens the university’s autonomy.

Truth: According the the [University Law], 76 competences are assigned to the Ministry of University Education, which are given absolute control of the universities.

On the other hand, in a tweet, Emily Lopez (@Emy Jaime) says:

Nueva Ley de Universidades, nueva Ley para formar al Hombre y a la Mujer del mañana, con visión socialista, con visión de humanidad!

New University Law, new law to shape the man and woman of tomorrow, with socialist views and humanity!

Juan José Requena, through Aporrea, highlights the circumstances that brought about the current law [es] and believes that to suspend it is an insult to the people and the to the Bolivarian socialist process [es]:

Esta ley, neoliberal que la impuso Caldera, luego de un feroz allanamiento a la UCV, con tanques y todo. Ocurrió un 31 de octubre de 1.969 donde si es verdad que se le violó la autonomía en todas sus formas y maneras posibles a la UCV.

Quizá, la decisión del Presidente Chávez se dirija a que las reivindicaciones de la Ley –que eran bastantes- sean conocidas por todo estudiante y pueblo en general

Mientras tanto los estudiantes universitarios bolivarianos y socialistas se han quedado con un palmo de narices.

Es que acaso tenemos juristas y consejeros tan tontos y tan pendejos, que no sepan estructurar leyes.

Estoy seguro de que miles de estudiantes y no estudiante (sic) que respaldan el proceso hemos quedado por ahora frutados, […]

This neoliberal law, proposed by Caldera, after a ferocious take-over of the [Central University of Venezuela], with tanks an all, took place on October 31st, 1969, where the autonomy was violated in all possible ways.

Maybe president Chavez’ decision is towards the vindications of the law–which were many– so that they may be well known by all students and people in general.

Meanwhile the Bolivarian and socialist university students have been left with a slap in the face.

Is it that we have jurists and counselors so dumb and stupid that they don’t know how to form laws?

I am sure that thousands of students and non-students that support the process for now have been left frustrated, […].

Larrin Rivero (@masnunkvolveran) and Jesús Armas (@jesusalexander) support the law and invite others to discuss it:

Epa no nos olvidemos del debate que hay que dar sobre la Ley deUniversidades,abajo las viejas practicas 4to Republicanas.

Seguiremos discutiendo la ley de universidades y no permitiremos q unos pocos ajenos a la academia decidan por nosotros.

Hey, let’s not forget the debate on the University Law, down with the old 4th republican practices.

We will continue talking about the University Law and we will not allow that a few outside academia decide for us.

Francisco Toro in Caracas Chronicles provides another point of view on the veto by president Chávez:

In a rare bit of (seemingly) good news for the opposition, President Chávez has decided to veto the Universities Law that the 95% chavista outgoing National Assembly just approved.

Only trouble is, the Venezuelan Constitution doesn’t actually give the president veto power!

I realize it’s quaintly anachronistic to turn to the actual constitutional text to argue a political point in Venezuela these days, but I just think it’s funny: the first political victory the opposition has had in ages just came in the form of…an unconstitutional assertion of presidential power!

The following citizen video shows one of the protests against the law:

Noticias 24 published several photos of a student protest.

And this seems to be only the beginning. The problem of a new University Law stimulates debate about the shortcomings of the country’s educational system at the primary and higher levels. One can read between the lines the higher education model that the student body aspires to and the changes that many would like to see within the university structure. As a partial conclusion to the intense exchange of opinions that are expressed in social networks, the need to participate and have a critical discussion by conscious and well informed students remains.

Yuraima Becerra (@yurabecerra) and Mariana Ramirez (@marianaramirezz) share two concerns that point to the beginning of what appears to be a long and difficult debate: first, the distrust from the students that oppose the government:

#LaVerdad: Universitarios no se fían delveto a la Ley Orgánica de Universidades

#TheTruth [es] Academics do not trust the veto to The Organic University Law.

And second, the general misinformation:

Con poca información inician debate de Proyecto de Ley de Universidades

With little information they begin the debate about the bill for the University Law.
Thumbnail image by Gil Montaño for Demotix, under Copyright.

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