Last week, the Venezuelan Public Defender’s Office launched a school for human rights education that will be run by the state-funded Juan Vives Suria Foundation in Caracas and will carry out seminars in twelve of the country’s 23 states.
The new school will aim to “dismantle the liberal, reductionist, and individualist vision of human rights” said Gabriela Ramirez, Venezuela’s chief public defender, during a press conference at the foundation, which is named after a Catholic Priest famed for his activism in defense of human rights.
“Our vision is not just to train the staff of the Public Defender’s Office, but rather to build an enduring culture of human rights, just as our constitution calls for, and that it be the communities themselves that have the capacity and the competence to defend their rights,” said Ramirez.
Social workers and community activists who have already been leading human rights campaigns or who have denounced human rights violations will be the initial participants in the school. While enrolment is free of charge, aspirant students must submit a proposal outlining a social problem in their community and how their human rights education will help them solve it. The school will also offer a certificate of training in the new Anti-Corruption Law for local advocates who can vigil the behaviour of government institutions and of their own communal councils.
POLITICAL EDUCATION & SOCIAL CHANGE
The new human rights school is the latest of the government’s ongoing efforts to provide political education and skills training necessary for the success of its experiments in workplace democracy, local communal councils, land reform, judicial and penitentiary reform, and anti-poverty programs.
One of the government’s earliest training efforts was a series of workshops offered to start-up cooperative businesses that received government credits in 2005 and 2006. The workshops included techniques in group facilitation, practical skills for cooperative business administration, and an overview of leftist political thought including the origins of poverty, racism, the ownership of the means of production, and Marx’s concept of the original accumulation of capital.
Following President Hugo Chavez’s landslide re-election at the end of 2006, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was formed and a National Development Plan for 2007 -2013 was drawn up. The plan’s first strategic guideline was “the development of a new socialist ethic,” which is considered the basis for subsequent strategic guidelines, including “the deepening of revolutionary participatory democracy” and “the establishment of a socialist development model.”
The government also launched the “Morality and Enlightenment” program, which expanded the content of the training to be relevant to all social justice activists and government employees who sought to hone their skills and strengthen their role as change agents in their communities. Another objective of the program was “that people would un-learn the anti-values of the capitalist system such as individualism and selfishness, and cultivate solidarity and respect for human life”, in the words of Higher Education Minister Luis Acuña in a 2007 interview.
The cultivation of new values through political education has been a central tenet of the PSUV’s ongoing “3Rs” campaign – referring to “revision, rectification, and restart” – which aim to root out corruption, inefficiency, nepotism, and political opportunism from state bureaucracies, state-owned companies, and communal organizations.
TRANSFORMING TRADITIONAL INSTITUTIONS
In addition to the creation of new institutions to promote a transformation of values, the Chavez government has reformed pre-existing institutions, such as the National Institute for Educational Cooperation (INCE), which was founded more than 50 years ago.
Before Chavez was elected, INCE was well-known and often praised for providing technical training courses in textiles, tourism, construction, agriculture, commerce, and services. The Chavez government has carried on this tradition, but added a new element: Political training. Now, the institution – renamed the National Institute for Socialist Training and Education (INCES) – offers a broader variety of technical skills combined with “training of men and women with revolutionary consciousness and ideology, who assume work to be a tool for liberation, who are capable of transforming the traditional capitalist production model into a humanist, just, and egalitarian economic system”, according to an INCES press release.
SCHOOL FOR STRENGTHENING PEOPLE’S POWER
The INCES hosts one of the government’s most recent and far-reaching political re-education programs, the School for Strengthening People’s Power, which has been allocated a 65 million bolivars ($15.1 million) budget for fiscal year 2012. The school’s facilitators use diverse pedagogical methods to guide students to empower themselves and bring about social transformation cooperatively with their communities.
Workshops are tailored to serve different constituencies, such as communal council spokespersons in specialized housing, finance, and culture commissions. The school offers workshops to professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers, as well as to traditional working class workers, with the stated goal of creating “socialist work brigades” that promote a new concept of work rooted in commitment to social well-being.
The school also trains workers in state-run companies such as the telecommunications giant CANTV.
“These companies are managing multi-million dollar budgets that are in some cases bigger than the budgets of municipalities, so we have to change the mercantilist logic they operated by in the past”, said Sebastian Caldera, sub-director of political and ideological training at the school.
A fundamental part of the curriculum is an alternative history of Venezuela from the independence struggle against the Spanish Empire to the struggle for sovereignty and resistance to US hegemony. The curriculum includes independence hero Simon Bolivar’s ideas about South American integration, as well.
“Here in Venezuela, a large part of people’s history was hidden from us, and now we have the obligation and the duty to make these histories known,” said Caldera.
Mauricio Jaramillo, a facilitator at the school, said learning in the workshops is often mutual.
“More than teaching, we have learned a lot from the organized communities,” Jaramillo told COI. “We’ve also arrived to many communities where people do not know how to organize themselves, they do not know the new laws, or how to organize a commune – these are all things we teach them in the workshops.”
The school’s workshops take place in the participants’ workplaces, in local schools, in public buildings, and in universities. They occupy 6 full 8-hour days, which may fall within one week or be spread out across two long weekends or three normal weekends. The school’s goal in 2012 is to train 175,000 communal council spokespeople, 60,000 socialist work brigade members, 16,400 professionals, 11,000 activists, 720 INCES staff facilitators, and 160,000 refugees living in camps, according to Caldera.
“This army of people who are being trained to have dignified employment will be an example for the world. Here in Venezuela, unprecedented movements are taking place,” said Caldera.
“In the past, Latin America was a reference for bad policies, but now we see that in European countries and the US, the presidents and prime ministers are very low in the polls, and in contrast in Latin America we have [several presidents] winning re-election with more than 60% of the votes. So, let us do a comparison, which of the two systems is the better one? The capitalist one, or the progressive socialist one that is about people being subjects and not objects?”