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This is a Blog of my trip to Venezuela with the Venezuela Information Office from August 13-18, 2004, as an official observer for the referendum on the Hugo Chavez government.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

<Marc> I am back home and hope to upload photos from Venezuela later today to this blog, but I wanted to report on some of the meetings that we had on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, we met with Maria Egilda Castellano, the Rectora of the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela (UBV). This is a new public university that began a year ago to provide a higher education to people who cannot afford the cost or do not have the test scores necessary to attend other universities. UBV is housed in a building that PDVSA, the state oil company, abandoned. The university is completely free, including books, photocopies, medical services, transportation, and even lunches. Seventy seven percent of the students are from the lower-class, seventeen percent from the middle class, and four percent from the upper class.

More interesting, however, is the philosophy which drives the university. It is designed to break with old models of universities, and instead focuses on participatory democracy, social justice, and Latin American integration. It considers the political, ethical, and cultural bases for education, with a goal of building better citizens. Rather than following traditional academic divisions, the programs are interdisciplinary and emphasize service-learning aspects. The university seems to me to be a cross between Popular Universities common in Latin America the 1920s and current thinking in the United States on liberal arts education.

On Tuesday, we visited Caribe Itagua, Las Casitas, in the Parroquia la Vega on the outskirts of Caracas. It is a neighborhood that has benefits greatly from social programs under the Chavez administration. Before there were few social programs, but now there are education, literacy, medical, food, and other programs. Because of these programs, it is an area strongly supportive of Chavez. Witnessing the depth of this support makes it easy to understand why and how Chavez won the referendum on Sunday. </Marc> <!--12:35 PM-->

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