By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands of Venezuelans marched in Caracas this weekend over a controversial new education law passed last week that critics say it not only strengthens Chavez’s grip over schools and universities but also aims to instill his authoritarian nationalist ideology into the schooling system.
Police forcibly dispersed opponents of President Hugo Chavez’s government as thousands demonstrated both for and against an education law that critics fear will lead to Cuban-style political indoctrination in schools. Some opposition marchers carried placards that read: “I can’t stand your Cuban law.”
The police forces, in full riot gear and backed up by the National Guard, launched several attacks against the protesters. Helicopters hovered overhead as a water cannon drenched protesters and there were unconfirmed reports that dozens of people had been hurt.
The government claims the police used the water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets only when government opponents knocked over a fence marking the end of the authorized route.
The organizers of the march charge that the police started attacking well before the protesters approached the headquarters of the Chavez-nationalized telecommunications company, CANTV, which the government had set as the end site for the march.
The Minister of Interior and Justice, Tareck El Assaimi, had banned protesters from going on to the National Assembly, as the opposition originally wanted.
Oscar Perez, from the opposition party Alianza Bravo Pueblo claimed El Assaimi was responsible for “violations of human rights.” And National Assembly Deputy Juan Molina, from Podemos, the social democratic party which once backed Chavez but is now against him, denied that protesters had tried to get past the barricades at the final destination point, as the police claimed.
The new education law allows community councils, which are often pro-Chavez, to play a larger role in the operations of schools and universities. It also calls for the education system to be guided by the “Bolivarian doctrine,” a term Chavez uses to describe his socialist government.
Chavez’s previous attempt to reform education in 2002 led to mass protests at that time, eventually culminating in a failed coup attempt against him.
Church and university authorities oppose the new law. The church says it will hinder religious teaching and free the state from its obligation to subsidize private, church-run schools in poor neighborhoods.
“We have to fight for this country and for our children,” said one middle-aged woman shrouded in tear gas at the protest who was interviewed on the independent Globovision television station.
For more information, please see:
The Latin American Herald Tribune – Chávez Government Cracks Down on Venezuela Opposition March – 24 August 2009
Globovision – Dirigentes políticos denunciaron ante el MP la actuación de los cuerpos de seguridad en marcha contra la LOE – 23 August 2009
The Washington Post – Venezuelans march over schools law, police use gas – 22 April 2009