President Chavez Inaugurates New Initiatives in Housing and Education

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated new initiatives in housing and education this week. As a part of a new government program called Mission Alma Mater, the government opened five new universities and began construction of several others across the country.

By Chris Carlson – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Mérida, September 28, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated new initiatives in housing and education this week. As a part of a new government program called Mission Alma Mater, the government opened five new universities and began construction of several others across the country. The president was also present for the opening of nearly 100 new government-built apartments in Caracas as a part of a new program called Mission Villanueva.

Together with his brother, Minister of Education Adán Chavez, and the Minister of Higher Education Luis Acuña, the Venezuelan president announced the beginning of a new initiative for the advancement of higher education in the country on Tuesday. The initiative, called the Mission Alma Mater, has the objective of "continuing to open spaces for youth to assure free, high quality higher education to everyone," said Chavez.

In the central state of Aragua, the president toured one of five new spaces being simultaneously inaugurated across the country. These new centers, called "university villages," are somewhat like satellite universities directed by the government university-level education program, Mission Sucre, and will work together with the nation's other existing university-level institutions.

Chavez emphasized that these new satellite universities, of which the country now has 1,435, are increasing the access to higher education for students who live further away from major metropolitan areas and who were previously excluded from the university-level education system. The president stated that in these kinds of centers there are now nearly 400,000 students, almost 25 percent of total university-level students in the country.

"Now, with the socialist system, all of us are equal before the law, before the world, and we all have the same rights," said Chavez.

The president went on to announce the creation of 14 new regional public universities, 10 specialized universities, 4 technical schools, and the transformation of 29 other existing community colleges into universities over the next five years. All of this was announced as a part of the new Alma Mater program.

Construction of one of the specialized universities was inaugurated this week in the central state of Vargas. The university will specialize in tourism, and will have the capacity for 10,000 students. The construction of two other regional universities was also inaugurated, one in the western state of Lara, and the other in the southern state of Amazonas. Chavez also mentioned the University of the South, which will be a university open to students from across Latin America.

The total investment for Alma Mater this year and next year is Bs. 1.2 trillion (US$ 560 million), and the president said an additional Bs. 1 trillion (US$ 465 million) will be designated to the existing "Bolivarian" universities to repair and improve the facilities.

On Wednesday, Chavez was present for the inauguration of 96 government-built apartments in Caracas. The apartments are the first of an eventual 510 in a new complex in Caracas being built by the Ministry of Housing as a part of the Mission Villanueva program.

The complex, made up of 10 towers with 48 apartments each, and one tower of 30 apartments, is being built by the government to provide housing to low-income families that live in the high-risk shanties surrounding Caracas. Chavez said that the government will have built 150,000 houses of this sort in the whole country this year, something that he said he hopes will "transform" Caracas by the year 2021.

"We are going to transform all those shanty towns into buildings, small apartment complexes. We have to transform everything with patience, but we will do it," he said at the event.

The rest of the 510 apartments will be finished and handed over to families by February of next year, according to government sources. Each apartment is 75 square meters, has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room, dining room, and kitchen. And each complex will have green space, a Mercal food store, a Barrio Adentro health care center, and recreation facilities.

Each apartment has a value of around Bs. 63 million (US$ 30,000), of which the government will subsidize Bs. 24 million (US$ 11,000). Residents of the apartments will have 20 years to pay off the apartment. The government invested a total of Bs. 47 billion (US$ 21 million) in this first stage of 96 apartments.