Buenos Aires (CNSNews.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened Monday to take over and nationalize all private schools that do not accept a new education program promoting his left-wing worldview.
Speaking at the opening of one of 15 new so-called "Bolivarian" schools, the anti-U.S. populist said private Venezuelan schools "shall be subordinate to the constitution and the national education system -- the Bolivarian education system. Those who don't want to will have to close their schools."
"They will be closed down, taken over, nationalized and the government will take up responsibility for the children," he said.
He accused previous Venezuelan administrations of privatizing education "as a plan of the imperialism [the United States] to prevent people from accessing education."
In the late 1990s, Chavez introduced the "Bolivarian revolution," a socialist model named after 19th-century Latin American independence champion Simon Bolivar, of Venezuelan origin.
Chavez told the official Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) that there is nothing clandestine about the new education system, and that it was developed by a team of academic experts.
In the past, he said, education had a colonial thrust. "They taught us to venerate the [Spanish] conquerors. They taught us to look up to Tarzan -- we are the monkeys, and they, Tarzan."
ABN also quoted Chavez as saying: "Children have to know the truth. You have to tell them there is an unfair capitalist system that appropriates everything to get more every time -- a repressive system that clips one's wings."
Octavio De Lamo, chairman of the Venezuelan Chamber of Private Education, told the independent Globovision television network that the institutions he represents have not been furnished with the new education program and therefore do not understand its goals and scope.
"What improves the education system is diversity," he said. "There is an attempt at suffocating the whole education under a single behavioral education system."
De Lamo noted that private schools are well-patronized by top Venezuelan officials.
"I wonder why, if Bolivarian education is so good, all of the government senior officials send their children to our classrooms." he stated. "This is the first question the president should ask himself."
Venezuelan Education Minister Adan Chavez, a former ambassador to Cuba and the president's younger brother, said the department was working around the clock to get the new school system up and running.
He said the government was shaping "the textbooks that educators really need ... to effectively achieve the new citizen."
Last July, Adan Chavez told a pro-Chavez Web site promoting "21st century socialism" that he had grown up under "an evil system that left many of our classmates without education, at the mercy of poverty."
Jose Miguel Briceno, vice-president of the Venezuelan Teachers Union, told the Caracas newspaper El Tiempo that the Bolivarian education concept is merely an attempt by the government to impose its views.
"[It] is the ideology base of this regime, but not of the nation or its people," he said. "It manipulates the values of patriotism, as totalitarian regimes do."
In Washington, Rep. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican and frequent critic of Chavez, condemned the step.
"Instead of learning reading, writing and arithmetic, the children of Venezuela will be forced to learn the rabid rantings of a radical revolutionary," he said in a statement.
"With his Marxist-supporting brother Adan at the helm of the nation's schools, it's clear that Chavez's main goal is to brainwash and indoctrinate Venezuela's young people with his socialist ideology."
Mack said "the United States must do all it can to stand as the beacon of freedom and democracy in Latin America."
(Cybercast News Service International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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