Caracas – Venezuela´s socialist government secured a spot for Hugo Chavez in the minds of the nation’s kids by marking the dates of his birth, his death and other Chavista milestones as official school holidays.
In its continued effort to promote Chavismo as the ideology behind his trouble-ridden government, Nicolas Maduro issued an executive order last week giving February 4, March 5, April 13 and April 14 a "holiday" status in all of Venezuela’s schools and universities.This means that while students are still expected to come in, one way or another those days will need to be devoted to the memory of the late and colorful commander.
In addition to Chavez’s birth and death dates (April 14 and March 5), Venezuelans will now commemorate the anniversary of the coup with which he first tried – and failed – to take control of government (Feb. 4, 1992) and the date 10 years later on which he returned to power after being briefly overthrown by members of the opposition (April 13, 2002.)
Those days have been dubbed “Day of dignity” and “Day of civil and military dignity,” respectively.
The executive order mandating the new holidays was one of the last acts of Hector Rodríguez as minister of Education -- he has since left the position to run full time for the Assembly later this year. A prominent young member of the ruling party, Rodríguez worked alongside Chavez as his chief of staff in 2008 and remained his close ally afterward.
According to the note making the holidays official, these dates are expected to be commemorated in three different ways: class presentations during the week the holiday falls on, cultural activities in the schools and communities, and by adding the issue being commemorated to those days’ curricula.
The Education ministry’s local branches will evaluate the compliance of these orders.
The new holidays’ calendar is mandatory in all private and public schools, but not many details have been provided as of yet.
“We are not opposed to teach about Chavez; he was a president and should be studied like all the others,” Jannette Márquez, president of Venezuela’s Association of Private Schools, told Fox News Latino. “We have to wait to see if they send a detailed plan for those [new] dates, but we think he should be treated as the other [deceased presidents],” she added.
However, the big difference is that none of the other presidents’ dates of birth and death of the 20th century is included in the amended calendar. Not even Romulo Betancourt, the first democratically elected president after Marcos Pérez Jiménez dictatorship ended in 1958.
“Up until now, private schools haven’t been sanctioned for skipping holidays marked in the official calendar. But the ministry does check sometimes, [by] showing up at the school and interrogating teachers and students without notice,” Márquez told FNL.
Marking Chavez’s milestones is nothing new in most public schools. Even though the dates weren’t officially in the calendar, they already remembered Chavez on his date of birth and death.
“[Last year] during those weeks, we played in the school radio excerpts of his speeches and songs he sang,” said Fanny López, principal in a public high school in Catia, in the western section of Caracas. “The students also made display boards about his life,” she recalled.
Since Chavez’s death after a battle with an undisclosed cancer in 2013, the government and the PSUV party have made great efforts to present him as a national hero and capitalize his legacy.
President Nicolas Maduro mentions Chavez in almost every speech, urging people to follow his example.
In some public schools, history, science and even math textbooks already portray Chavez one way or another, but the use of his image increased sharply after his death. In the Catia high school Lopez works, there is a permanent display about the late president that is carefully modified every month by the Bolivarian Society, a group of students that belongs to the Bolivarian Organization of Students, a national youth movement exclusive to party members.
Lopez recounted that the display done before year end back in June was about Chavez and sports. “They put pictures of him playing baseball and parts of his speeches related to sports,” she told FNL with pride.
“He made history and his legacy still lives on,” she said.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.