Venezuelan National Assembly Passes New Education Law

The Venezuelan National Assembly passed a controversial new Education Law shortly after midnight on Friday morning, following a twelve hour marathon legislative session and a day of heated street protests both for and against the law.
"Yes to liberatory education," says the sign of a pro-law demonstrator outside the National Assembly on Thursday (ABN)

Mérida, August
14th 2009 ( — The Venezuelan National Assembly
passed a controversial new Education Law shortly after midnight on Friday
morning, following a twelve hour marathon legislative session and a day of
heated street protests both for and against the law.

Throughout the
day, legislators argued and revised each article of the law, which is of
organic nature, meaning it has the highest possible legal stature under the
constitution and is required by the constitution. The final version was
officially sent to President Chavez for approval minutes before three o'clock
Friday morning.

According to
National Assembly Vice President Saul Ortega, the law's objective is "to
guarantee our people a free, accessible, liberatory, and secular education that
definitively guarantees teacher stability and autonomy."

One of the
controversial parts of the law is that it strengthens the role of the state in
education. Article 4 states that is the responsibility of the "Educator State"
(Estado Docente) to guarantee "education as a universal human right and
fundamental, inalienable, non-renounceable social duty, and a public service…
governed by the principles of integrality, cooperation, solidarity,
attentiveness, and co-responsibility."

The National
Assembly approved the first draft of the law in August 2001. Over the past
eight years, legislators held extensive "street parliament" sessions, or public
discussions of the law's content with teachers unions, political parties,
regional and local government officials, and other educational and civil society

Over the past
several weeks, opponents and proponents of the law, including student groups,
educational organizations, and political parties marched to the National Assembly
to turn in their proposals and objections, and were frequently received by
legislators. On Sunday, the full text of the law proposal was published in
several national daily newspapers.

The second
round of formal discussions began at two o'clock on Thursday afternoon in an
extraordinary session of the National Assembly, which is now almost entirely
comprised of supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Hugo
Chavez, since the opposition chose to boycott the National Assembly elections
in 2005.

Meanwhile, in
Caracas, thousands of teachers, union leaders, community activists, and
militants of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) marched to the
National Assembly in support of the law. In a smaller march led by high profile
opposition politicians near the National Assembly, opponents of the law
demanded that discussions of the law be further postponed.

When the
metropolitan police intervened to keep the two groups of demonstrators from
clashing, tear gas canisters were thrown and several people were injured.
Leaders of both marches blamed infiltrators from the other side for the
violence as well as for the tear gas. Also in Caracas, unidentified assailants
attacked and injured twelve journalists from a news network as they protested
against the law.

In Nueva
Esparta state, opponents of the law reportedly approached the state educational
administration building as though they were going to peacefully turn in a list
of proposals for the law, then suddenly attempted to force their way into the
building, but were physically impeded by educational personnel.  

On Friday,
fights broke out and several people were injured in the capital of Merida state
as proponents and opponents of the law demonstrated near the main plaza.

According to a statement
emitted by Communications and Information Minister Blanca Eekhout, the national
government "categorically rejects" all acts of violence on both sides and
calls for the peaceful resolution of disagreements "in the realm of ideas, by
way of constructive dialogue." Eekhout confirmed that the national
investigative police, the CICPC, are investigating all incidents.

In recent
months, powerful opposition groups, including the association of rectors of
Venezuela's major public and private universities, all major opposition
parties, much of the privately owned media, some teachers unions, and the
Catholic Church waged a vicious media campaign against the law, in some cases
asserting that the law will bring the country a step closer to

alleged that the law is anti-democratic because it was not subject to enough public
consultation. They also said it threatens religious education and the family,
and politicizes the classroom. In June, radio commentators falsely reported
that two articles in the law would permit the state to take children between
the ages of 3 and 20 away from their parents for socialist indoctrination.

In response to
the allegations, Education Minister Hector Navarro fervently denounced the lie
that the state will be permitted to sequester children, and repeatedly pointed
out that the procedures taken by the National Assembly for the discussion and
passage of the law were fully in line with the national constitution.

The Minister
said the opposition's claims are not only incorrect, they "form part of a
campaign that seeks to generate fear in the population."

Also in
response to the allegations, several National Assembly legislators and some
less intense opponents of the law cited numerous articles in the law which
support the role of the family as part of the educational community, establish
that religious education must be carried out privately and not in public
schools, and expressly prohibit political propaganda in the classroom.

Several leaders
of the National Workers Union (UNETE), Venezuela's largest labor union
confederation, praised the law for expanding protections for teachers as well
as laborers in educational institutions, and for establishing more democratic
university admissions policies.

Moreno, the national secretary of professionals and technicians for the
Venezuelan Communist Party, said the law "has included a significant
participation of the Venezuelan people: Communities, teachers, foundations, people's
collectives, students, and universities."

The law also
"opens important spaces for people's power… so that it participates actively
and in a co-responsible manner in the educational process, by way of
comptrollership and social, popular control over the administration of
resources," said Moreno.

The new law
stipulates that several further laws of a lower legal stature must be passed to
govern specific areas such as university education and teacher rights and
responsibilities. Thus, the debate over how to structure Venezuela's
educational system is not over.