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Abilene Christian University
International Studies
INTS 212
Carolina Galdiz

Galdiz 1 Carolina Galdiz Professor Anderson INTS 212 – Global Politics May 10, 2012 Final Paper: Education, Class and Socialism in Venezuela Throughout its trajectory as an independent country, Venezuela has been a mixed bag in terms of government support of educational projects. Due to the government’s increased investment in education in the last century, however, the lower socioeconomic classes are becoming empowered and informed. In order to understand the present state of education and its impact on social class in Venezuela, one must know about the economic history of the country. Up until 1910, when crude oil was first discovered, Venezuelan economy was largely based in agriculture. One report from the United Nations reads, Venezuela was an agricultural country, exporting coffee, corn, cocoa, sugar and other products. After oil was discovered, people in the rural areas went to the cities and to the oil camps looking for better a standard of living. This situation changed not only the economic life of the country but also the attitudes of the people who came to occupy the marginal areas, which surround the big cities. Most of them were illiterate persons who easily found a job in the oil companies and changed their rural habits. This historic change is essential to any understanding of the educational situation; otherwise it is sometimes difficult when working with these large concentrations of people to get them to understand that a job, money and food are not the only needs they have. (Ouane 227) Soon after this transformation, Juan Vicente Gomez seized power in an act that would bring unmatched repression upon the people of Venezuela. “Few dictators in history can rival Gomez, Galdiz 2 ‘the Catfish’ in his tyranny, in his complete disregard for the well-being and progress of his people, in his brazen appropriation of the national treasury. For a quarter of a century, Gomez held Venezuela as his private fief” (Sanchez 7). The twentieth century, in the wake of Juan Vicente Gomez, was a very sad time for education in Venezuela (Sanchez 7). In 1936, one year after Gomez’ death: the school age population (7-14 years) numbered 493,237, of whom only 149,143 (less than 35 percent) were enrolled in schools, and it was officially estimated in the following year that only 20,00 were in regular attendance. The national illiteracy rate exceeded 80 percent. That this figure was probably based on a minimum definition of literacy is indicated in the further fact that 76 percent of the school enrollment was in the first grade, with only 2,815 children reaching the sixth (last) grade of elementary school. (Sánchez 7) In Venezuela, a rich country compared to its neighbors, “popular education was virtually nonexistent in 1935. Juan Vicente Gómez, whose arrangements with the oil companies provided a major part of the government’s revenue, did not see fit to allow any substantial portion of the nation’s wealth to find its way into schools” (Sanchez 8). This policy, of ignoring education, has sadly been hallmark of many Venezuelan leaders. Although gross domestic product grew substantially after they began exporting crude oil, initially, very little of the profit reaped was invested into social projects. This prevented the lower socioeconomic social classes from the opportunity to break out of their squalor. Without the prospect of becoming literate, the lower class had no avenue for becoming informed, facilitating effortless repression from the government. Critics of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s current president, denounce him for the same thing. “Chávez’s opponents accused him of wasting the country’s oil bonanza on politically driven Galdiz 3 projects abroad while neglecting infrastructure at home” (Shifter 45). The overseas program that his dissidents denounced was his mission to amass power through projects, reminiscent of those endeavored by Argentina’s infamous first lady Eva Peron. For example, Chavez donated home heating oil to poor American families through Venezuelan subsidiary, Citgo, one winter in an action mean to universalize his association with the less fortunate around the world (Shifter 50). Moreover, Chavez has formed various dangerous alliances. He has endorsed efforts in Iran to develop nuclear energy and even likened Cuba to Iran saying that they are both “brothers who fight for a just world” (Shifter 55). Additionally, he has formed an intimate bond with Cuba, which has been central to his social revitalization efforts. “In exchange for Cuban teachers and doctors, Chavez furnished the financially strapped island some 90,000 barrels of oil a day” (Shifter 52). These actions have drawn attention to Chavez and have put the United States on guard. Although his bold attitude in opposition to the United States has garnered him much internal support, many believe that Chavez should turn his attention to fixing internal issues before stirring the pot on the global stage. Regardless of his problematic foreign policy decisions, however, its important to recognize the attention that President Chavez has devoted to social problems. When Chavez entered politics, his combative style and straight-talking populist charisma served him well in a country marked by pervasive discontent. His fierce indictment of the old political order – and his promise of a ‘revolution’ in honor of South America’s liberator, Simon Bolivar – held wide appeal among poor Venezuelans. Unlike the ‘out of touch’ politicians, Chavez projected a sincere concern for those living in poverty. In Venezuela, that meant three-quarters of the population. (Shifter 47) Galdiz 4 Chavez initially gained and continues to maintain the support of the masses due to his identification with and careful consideration of the poor. This Bolivarian platform of unity, in conjunction with his television program, Alo President solidified his bond with the Venezuelan people. The idea that, despite all of the responsibilities that go along with being president, Chavez would prioritize direct communication with the people for an hour each week, creates a sense that Chavez is governing with genuine concern for the wellbeing populace. Further, his willingness to educate the masses reflects a confidence that his governance would be supported by anyone informed enough to understand the dynamics. Chavez has, without a doubt devoted more attention and invested more resources to education than any Venezuelan president that preceded him. Michael Shifter explains: Chavez’s government has undertaken important social programs and launched workers’ cooperatives in urban slums. Plans are under way to set up ‘social production companies’ that would extend the state sector and seek to distribute earnings among workers and community projects. Venezuela’s oil wealth has made massive expenditures possible – an estimated $20 billion in the past three years alone on programs to provide food, education, and medical acre to underserved populations – which have undeniably had some effect. (50) This attention and investment however, did not come without a price. Chavez uses full personal discretion in deciding how to provide social services to the public. Michael Penfold- Becerra elucidates: Once elected, Chávez dismantled the existing social programs designed under previous administrations and created a Unified Social Fund (FUS in Spanish), directly managed by the armed forces, which, according to statements by government officials, soon proved to Galdiz 5 be corrupt and inefficient. Under electoral pressures – particularly the possibility that his presidency might be revoked by a referendum called by the opposition in 2004 – and taking advantage of the oil windfall provided by high oil prices at the time, Chavez tapped into resources from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to finance social programs that he labeled “missions to save the people.” […] These misiones were financed through opaque and nonbudgetary mechanisms; namely transferring oil revenues directly from PDVSA to a special fund managed by the presidency. […] In other words, the misiones served two very different purposes: they were subject to political manipulation (to “buy votes”), and they allowed for a direct distribution of oil rents to the low-income populations. (64-5) Penfold-Becerra presents the reader with a dichotomy of priorities. Should the populace accept the corrupt administration of social services, as long as the wealth is trickling down? After all, not many of their neighboring countries are furnished with that “luxury.” Does the end of receiving social services justify the means of corruption? What role can one expect democracy to play in a society where the majority of the citizens are illiterate and uneducated? Chavez’ actions reflect clear uncontested power, and are therein, easy to criticize. At the end of the day, however, Venezuelans are more equipped to understand their political system after learning about how it operates. Chavez is providing his people, specifically those in the lower socioeconomic classes, with a great advantage in making education readily available. He is empowering them to awareness and giving them the tools for self-betterment. How else then by escaping ignorance, can lower classes worldwide ever break their endless cycle of poverty? By educating them, Chavez is preparing his people, particularly the poverty stricken majority, to be more functional members of today’s advanced and globalized world. Furthermore, with his Galdiz 6 misiones, the masses are finally reaping the benefits of the revenue generated from the natural resources of their land. Access to this income, which had been privileged up until the misiones were launched, might serve as an equalizer or at least help to close the gap between the extremely affluent and the extremely impoverished. These missions (misiones in Spanish) started out to provide health care in the poorest areas in the country, particularly the shantytowns of urban centers (mission Barrio Adentro). After that, a series of so-called misiones provided various social ser
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