Mérida, June 18th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) — In response to an opposition-led media campaign to convince Venezuelans that the Education Law under discussion in the Venezuelan National Assembly will permit the government to arbitrarily take custody of children, Education Minister Hector Navarro denied that the law will contain such a clause and compared the campaign to the U.S.-led psychological war and expatriation of children from Cuba in the early 1960s.
"It is true that we are preparing the proposal for the Organic Law on Education, but incorporating parental guardianship [by the state] is not being considered," said Navarro in an interview on the state television station VTV.
Navarro explained the intention behind the reform of the law. "We have the responsibility to the country and the Constitution… to create a law that is adapted to the reality in which the country is living. The current one was passed in 1980 without public consultation and as a result it is anachronistic," he said, specifying that the current law does not allow the state to exercise enough oversight over the public school system.
The National Assembly plans to pass an Organic Education Law, and two special laws on primary education and university education, after a period of public consultation, according to Navarro.
Over the past week, oppositionists have been transmitting radio and internet messages and passing out pamphlets in the states of Carabobo, Zulia, and Aragua containing false versions of the law proposal, according to Navarro.
VTV played an alleged MP3 recording of one of the radio messages, in which the DJ recites false versions of Articles 3 and 4 of the law proposal that permit the state to take custody of children between the ages of three and twenty and to place them in state-run "children's circles" and indoctrinate them with "civic and mental training."
On national television, the minister read the actual text of the law under discussion. Article 3 says, "The state will guarantee the infrastructure, equipment, investments, programs, and human resources, and services to assure that everyone has equality of conditions and opportunity and democratic, continuous, integral, intercultural, quality education."
According to the National Assembly website, Article 4 of the law proposal under discussion outlines the duty of the state "to promote the process of citizen education in a global, integral, permanent form, in accordance with the principles contained in the Constitution and the law," and to promote "the integration of the school, the family, and the community."
Leonardo Carvajal, a leader of the non-government organization Education Assembly and critic of the Chávez government, stated publicly that the government is trying to "impose" an educational model "with Cuban values," and that this constitutes "an attack against the most sacred interests of Venezuela."
Navarro responded that the law will be open to ample public discussion before passage, and that diversity of thought is a cornerstone of the government's education policy.
"Inculcate your children with Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist values, this does not concern the Venezuelan state," said Navarro. "To the Venezuelan state it is important that your child grow up in freedom and become a critically thinking citizen, a republican citizen, capable of defending his or her ideas."
Litbell Díaz, the president of Venezuela's National Council on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, said the opposition is using similar psychological warfare tactics to those used by opponents of the Cuban government to sow terror and political destabilization in Cuba between 1960 and 1962.
"When the Cuban Revolution triumphed, the opposition started to create a campaign which said that the revolution was going to take away children. In this way, they developed a massive operation to take them out of Cuba," said Díaz. According to reports on VTV and in Cuba's daily newspaper Granma, 14,000 children were expatriated from Cuba as a result of the campaign organized by the U.S. government in team with anti-Castro Cubans and the Catholic Church.
Díaz called on Venezuelans "to stay calm and ignore this series of lies." To eliminate the right of parents to custody of their children "would be illegal and anti-constitutional," she said. She added that the philosophy of the government institution she leads is to assist youth who have been separated from their families to obtain rehabilitation and be reunited with their families or with foster families.
Minister Navarro said those who actively promote the spread of false information about the Education Law could be convicted for infractions of the Organic Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents. He said the Education Ministry has begun investigating cases of the spread of false information in secondary schools.
Navarro asserted that the opposition's campaign does not have the welfare of children in mind, but is rather "an orchestrated plan that seeks destabilization with the objective of weakening the political backing of the government."
To counter the campaign, Navarro called for a "war of ideas" and the "empowerment of the conscience of Venezuelans."