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Chavez Educates Masses at a University in His Image

'The New Regimen'

Participants in a rally attended by students of Bolivarian University hand out postersof Chavez as they prepare to march in support of his government.
Participants in a rally attended by students of Bolivarian University hand out postersof Chavez as they prepare to march in support of his government. (By Monte Reel -- The Washington Post)

A small crowd gathered in the university parking lot earlier this month to board buses to attend a political rally downtown. All wore red, the trademark color of the Bolivarian revolution.

But instead of taking to the streets to protest what they don't like about their government, the students here march in support of it. The flier taped to the front doors of the main university building defined that day's rally as an occasion to stand up for Chavez and against "Yankee Imperialism."

"As Socrates said, we're all political animals," said Nelson Sosa, 26, a second-year law student. "But we have to support good politics, not ambiguous ones."

Sosa and other students said they would be free to protest against Chavez's government if they chose to, but they haven't chosen to yet. There is no sign of an opposition presence anywhere at the university.

University administrators say that absence does not represent an absence of democratic principles. Temir Porras Ponceleon, the vice minister of higher education and the vice rector of Bolivarian University, said those who make up the political opposition in Venezuela today are like those who defended a return to a monarchy after the French Revolution. The political system underwent a fundamental shift when Chavez took power in 1998, he suggested, and the opposition must adapt.

"My hope is that inside of the new political regimen, we develop a center, a left and a right -- but they all have to accept the fundamentals of the new regimen," Ponceleon said. "Different political tendencies can exist, and only time will tell how they will evolve . . . and still respect the new regimen."

If all goes according to plan, the millions of students graduating from Bolivarian University in coming years will be the ones largely responsible for determining that.

"The state needs professionals who share the fundamental basics of the republic," Ponceleon said. "That is to say, who share the principles like public education that is truly public, to guarantee the permanence of the republic."


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