Mérida, March 14th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Friday President Hugo Chavez announced the creation of the Ministry of Youth and Students which aims to address the needs of young people, and will be run by them.
“We are already thinking about how to structure this ministry, which the Venezuelan, working, student, sport, rural, indigenous, female, male, and artistic youth are going to run,” Chavez said during a meeting to organise the upcoming first National Bicentenary Student Congress.
He said it was the youth who have enough “fire” to make a revolution, and yesterday on national television he commented that the new ministry should “come out of the dynamic of the youth, I don’t want to choose a minster who has the magic wand to run it. No, rather it should be the other way around, that’s the idea.”
Speaking to the youth on the television show, Chavez said, “You all have to help us, you should decide in the different collectives how this ministry should be.”
However he did suggest that the ministry, with the support of those who make it up, should “flood the streets doing politics, culture, and with the socialist message”.
He also encouraged the youth at Friday’s meeting to organise a national student council. He suggested the council begin its formation in the municipalities, from there form its regional entity, and then the national council.
Such a council would be able to propose laws to provide solutions to the problems that high school students have entering university, he said as an example.
“You [young people] are the guarantee of the revolution,” Chavez said.
“I think an entity like this [new ministry] that groups young people together and that designs policies for this sector of the population is very necessary. It’s a very broad area of work and it’s something that should have happened a long time ago,” Roger Zurita, a youth leader in Merida state, told Venezuelanalysis.com.
“The ministry could organise the youth into different fronts, such as cultural ones, sport, workers, student movements and so on,” Zurita added.
Chavez also announced that the government is considering increasing the number of university student scholarships from 100,000 to 200,000 and also increasing the value of the scholarships.
However, he said to make such a change, the authorities of the various universities need to be “more transparent with the resources they receive”.
“We can’t be supporting non-transparent mechanisms, where resources are lost, where ghost scholarships are paid for four times over or students who don’t need a scholarship receive one in order to spend it on pleasure. These scholarships are for students to sustain them in their efforts to study and struggle,” Chavez explained.
Opposition hunger strike and the university debate
The announcements come as opposition-supporting university students are carrying out a hunger strike outside the United Nations Development Program offices in Caracas to demand better funding of public universities. Also, there is currently a nationwide debate over the content of the University Law, which Chavez sent back to the National Assembly as he felt more discussion was needed before he could approve it.
The debate includes what universities should be, their role in society, and how to transform the universities into participatory democratic institutions.
Chavez proposed a nationally televised debate between his student supporters and opposition students, and said he hoped the right wing students accepted the opportunity. Yesterday pro-government students also made a nationally televised call for the debate.
Central University of Venezuela student Aimara Gerdel said they were still discussing how the debate could be conducted, but hoped to include students from the autonomous universities, the private ones, experimental ones, and national ones.
Another student, Douglas Rangel, called on the hunger-striking students to join the debate “instead of taking isolated actions which only seek to destabilise.”
The students said the debate would be about topics such as the university budget, the system of entering university, the curriculum, as well as general university transformation.
The current hunger strike by the opposition students follows another one last month which ended after hunger strikers reached an agreement with the Venezuelan national government over their demands for “political prisoners” to be freed.
“They [the hunger strikers] want the government to order the release of a murderer,” Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said at the time, while United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader Jesse Chacon said “the mechanism that the opposition used to reach the National Assembly left all the youth excluded.”
According to a recent a survey by GIS XXI, which is independent of the government but is headed up by Chacon, 65.7% of youth recognise that president Chavez “does everything he can to resolve the problems of the people” and 55.5% feel that the Bolivarian Revolution has changed the values of Venezuelans.