While Bolivian president Evo Morales was welcoming Fernando Lugo, who on 20 April won the presidential elections in Paraguay, within the ranks of progressive Latin American/Caribbean leaders (see report), a HE summit was taking place in Cochabamba (Bolivia, 20-22 April) under the heading “Workshop of Higher Education for the ALBA”. At the meeting, the five ALBA (higher) education ministers (Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Nicaragua, Venezuela) signed the “Cochabamba Declaration”. ALBA – as we previously noted – stands for the ‘Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of Our America’, which is a regional integration project that counters the commoditisation of education.
According to Bolivia’s education ministry, over 50 delegates from the ALBA member countries, 300 delegates from public and private Bolivian universities, including HE institutions run by the Catholic Church and the armed forces, as well as social and educational movements and organizations, participated in the workshop.
The Cochabamba Declaration lays the foundation for the integration of the member countries’ education systems. In HE, stated fields of cooperation are: research and technology, education software and distance education, mutual recognition of titles, and academic and student mobility within the ALBA sub-region. Importantly, under ALBA’s logic of integral education and social development, the HE strategies include the provision of primary and secondary education, as it is at those levels where exclusion from HE originates in impoverished contexts, even if HE is nominally fee-free.
According to Venezuela’s vice-minister of academic policies, Tibisay Hung, the ALBA policies, curricula and teaching materials open up a range of rights :
This is not about imposing anything, but to collaborate and see to it that the others also can achieve a dignified life.
Outside the meeting, the local newspaper El Tiempo reported of private university students protesting for “freedom in education” and “democracy”, claiming that “ideological impositions by Cuba and Venezuela” would “violate national sovereignty” and “divide the Bolivian family” .
The “Bolivian family”, however, has for centuries been systematically divided along race and class lines. Put into context, these “student protests” form part of a larger destabilization strategy orchestrated by Washington in order to topple President Morales’ progressive government.
Similar to Venezuela last year, in the advent of the referendum on constitutional reform, it is possible to show that such “student protesters” represent a minority as they are recruited from the traditional economic and land-holding elites who, as these lines are being written, are holding an illegal referendum on the secession of the department of Santa Cruz (Bolivia), with the objective of crippling Bolivia’s economy to provoke political upheaval.