A few weeks ago, the alarm over the government education proposals after another Sunday radio talk show of the president, rang again.These days, the education sphere (and specially the one inside the universities not founded by this government) seems to be the only one that remains independent but it’s constantly under government’ menace. This was even, the first issue that broke the nerves of the Venezuelans (specially middle and high class ones on that time) against the president, in a year as early as 2001, translating into mass protest. It was all about a now forgotten “1011 decree” which if I remember correctly, established the figure of some communal leaders outside the authorities of the school itself; with the power to watch how the schools were working and even make decisions about it.
It’s been a while since those very early pretensions of control over education, especially private education. But similar ideas has remain constantly in the government speech so, to hear now a new education project its nothing new at all. In fact, the Revolution has entered the schools in a way I doubt many people have noticed. For me this is inevitable, after all Chavez has been ruling the country for nine years so it is very naive to pretend that there’s no influence of it – directly or not – inside the classrooms.
When Chavez was first elected on 1998, I was in my 8th year of school or how is also called here: the second year of high school (bachillerato). The elections were a very hot topic inside my girl’s only catholic school every time we had a break.
“Alfaro is too old and Irene it’s like a Barbie doll. At least Chavez is young” – A classmate, which I remember well because she had the particularity of using a lot of ridiculous stuff for her hair– “What about Salas Romer?” – I asked her about the other candidate who had the strongest chances to beat Chavez (of course, if you compare it with the other two) – “Oh those yellow suns (the symbol of this candidate party) everywhere, they are so annoying!” – She continued – “Would you like to see yellow suns on Caracas streets everywhere?” – I made a quick gesture that was hard to translate into a “yes” or a “no” and sink in my desk, I was pretty lazy to argue or even talk back in high school. After we graduate I never saw this girl again, so I never had the chance to tell her that I would happily trade now all this madness for some yellow suns.
I don’t think the opinions of a 14 year old can be made without a very direct influence of their homes, so my classmate and I were basically talking in a reflection of what we heard on the dinners at home… no wonder why you don’t vote until you are 18 years old. A drill of the elections was made in my school, as in many others. And Chavez won; as he won in real elections in the rest of the country.
One year later we started the 9th year by meeting our teacher of “Cátedra Bolivariana” (A class basically all about Bolivar- and yes, it has existed before the Revolution, the Bolivar cult its nothing new, Chavez made it bigger and more vague). She was quite a strange character for a school ruled by nuns.
Definitely not a nun, she had very long- dyed with the most horrible blonde tone you can imagine- and straightened hair that she moved from one side to another pretending to be a Miss Venezuela. Of course, every woman with curly hair knows – I belong to that crowd –the pain and the time that is needed in order to straight your hair so she only did that once a week and I could feel a real pity (if I wasn’t the one with the bad luck) about the girls who had to take classes with her on Fridays since the fat and the dirt of her hair – that looked perfectly on Monday – can be seen now from the distance.
Besides her looks the evil inside me made me talk about, she was a strong and a very idealistic supporter of the “process”, a process that was just a baby on that time. Over reacting, if you didn’t write on her exams that Bolivar was the most amazing man on earth, you could pretty much expect a zero on your grades.
Things got a lot worse about this woman the next year where we had to study a horrible class of whom I was always on strong disagreement called – believe it or not – “Instrucción Premilitar” (Pre – military Instruction). I could never stop wonder over and over again that if the military wasn’t exactly the career I wanted, why I had to study military tactics. Soon I realize that this class was more about patriotism than military tactics and that my fake blonde teacher – very Lina Ron style – had always enough words to speak wonders about the government’ initiatives supported by some contents on the books needed for that class.
The next year – my final year of high school – we had to take that class about patriotism with the same woman – don’t ask me why – all over again (well, part II, not very different from part I). But it wasn’t any year: I finished the high school on 2002, probably the year where you could say that “everything started”.
One day in January I was attending to a silly – but very elegant -high school party: the 15 year birthday of the little sister of one of my classmates; wearing – Isn’t it funny to think about it now? – a beautiful long red dress (when red it was just a color that looked nice on me). And just a few days later I was attending to my very first protest. Ever since then, inside and outside the classrooms; nothing about my life was ever the same: two months later a general strike started and finished with the painful April events on which we had three presidents on two days.
When we came back to class after more than one week of protest and riots and disturbing political affairs, I had a first meeting with the country I’m dealing today: a country perfectly divided in two, subdued in a deaf dialogue.
One teacher telling us about how concerned and worried she was and with her voice all partially cut giving us the advice of studying as much as we could before leaving the country if we had to. Advice that the reader might have notice that I’m still following.
And another, with her books of “Instruccion Premilitar” and “Catedra Bolivariana” in her arms making a strong critic about the events: “Instead of marching like sillies for asking a resignation, you guys should started to pick up signatures to ask a referendum (recall) that, like we have seen in class, its part of the new Constitution. You went there, and you went there – She said pointing a couple of classmates who had just told to the class, absolutely terrified about how they run through El Calvario (Caracas downtown) protecting themselves from the gun shoots that they didn’t knew where they came from on the demonstration of April 11/ 2002 – Did anyone asked for your signature?” – The two girls looked at her with fried egg eyes making a timid “No” gesture – “There you go” – She said, proudly, retiring with her books just in time to catch his boyfriend dressed in black waiting for her on his noisy motorcycle.
On July I was celebrating my high school graduation; on October I was starting the university and just a few days later a few men from the military decided to leave their weapons aside and gather in a square as an act of “pacific resistance” against the government. They gathered there for over two months – If I remember correctly. And a few days after my 18 birthday, December started with the astonishing news of a shooter who killed several people that were also gathered in that square in the middle of an undefined general strike.
I never saw my fake blonde teacher again, otherwise I would have ask her, at least just using my eyes about the million times the government rejected under lame excuses the signatures picked by the opposition in order to ask for a recall against the president rule; just as the 1999 Constitution established. And would have look at her even deeper asking about the Tascón list. Or I would simply not look at her. As the reader might notice, is not easy to escape of my country’s deaf dialogue, although I have tried – without hardly any success – on several times before.
This is pretty much the account of my high school years. You would have to be quite crazy if you even suggest that I, as a kid/ teenager (still haven’t decided what the hell I was), I was protected in class of any political influence. I even had to see my own Lina Ron version for three years several times a week. But from commenting the news and having an exotic professor to force teachers to adjust to the government’ ideology is quite a step I hope the society is not ready – and wont allow – to be taken.
About the title: Lina Ron is a communal leader, strong and radical government supporter known more for her looks and temper than for her thoughts. The most notorious feature about her is her fake blonde hair and her annoying voice.
Note aside: The reader could criticize here the absence of any comment about the Vargas tragedy that took place during that year, specifically in December. It’s probably because when this happened we were pretty much on Christmas vacations so my memories on the Vargas tragedy are more related to my home environment rather than my school environment. When we came back to school in January, the conversations were more about the human than the political side of the tragedy.