Mike Cole praises Venezuela for “the promotion of social democracy and the mass alleviation of poverty” (“What is the best bloc for a 21st-century education system?”, From Where I Sit, 9 October). He also claims that in Venezuela “there is an emphasis on justice for Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples”. On education, he says that Venezuela provides “free mass education for the working class in publicly owned universities, education to serve the needs of the workers and their communities and the creation of 21st-century socialists”.
As a Venezuelan citizen and a democratic socialist, I only wish his claims were true.
Since Hugo Chávez’s party took office in 1999, democracy in Venezuela has gradually eroded. Today all public powers (executive, legislative and judicial) are in the hands of the government. Television channels, radio stations and newspapers have been closed.
Cole is right when he says that poverty was alleviated, at least while Chávez was alive. However, he fails to mention that it decreased at a much slower pace than in the rest of the region. According to an article published in The Economist last month, it is estimated that one-third of basic goods are missing from the shelves, and six out of every 10 medicines (including cancer and HIV drugs) are unavailable. An inflation rate of more than 60 per cent a year has hit the poor like never before.
In terms of the emphasis on justice for Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples mentioned by Cole, it is important to note that there were more than 24,000 murders in Venezuela in 2013, more than 90 per cent of which have gone unpunished. Most of these murders take place in poor areas where most of the Afro-descendant population live.
Finally, with regard to the Venezuelan educational system, Cole seems to ignore the fact that education in Venezuela has been free for 143 years. In 1870, President Antonio Guzmán Blanco signed a decree making education public, free and compulsory for all Venezuelans. Implying that free education can be attributed to Chávez or his Bolivarian revolution is simply a fallacy.
Sadly, the only thing that students have received from the Venezuelan government recently is tear gas. In the student-led protests against the government between February and June this year, more than 40 people were killed, more than 3,000 were arrested and there were allegations of torture. This, unfortunately, is the sad reality of Venezuela today.
Senior teaching fellow in leadership, and programme director (MSc Management)
University College London