ALBA Declaration of Higher Education

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.

Thomas Muhr

Designing the ‘University of the Peoples of the South’ – a case of regionalising the ‘Venezuela Bolivarian University’ model

In times of increased global educational segregation under the so-called ‘knowledge-based economy’, the Chavez government has sought to democratize access to, and the contents of, higher education (see our earlier report on Venezuela).

About a week ago, Venezuela’s Bolivarian News Agency reported on the progress made in designing the University of the People’s of the South.

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According to Luis Quintana, Coordinator for International Relations in Venezuela’s Higher Education Ministry, the proposed ‘University of the People’s of the South’ is a new addition to the Bolivarian ‘Alternative for the People’s of Our America’ (ALBA) project which to date has tended to focus on the eradication of illiteracy in countries such as Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Representatives from Argentina, Puerto Rica and Colombia (amongst others) last week discussed the internal organization of the university, its relation to society, the nature of the research program, and its territorial organization.

The philosophical-politico conceptualization, however, appears to follow Venezuela’s Bolivarian University (UBV), founded in 2003, where those excluded from the global education market – ‘the South’ – can study free of charge.

Referring to the ‘University of the Peoples of the South’, Luis Quintana is reported as stating:

…popular and indigenous knowledges will be crucial to generate knowledges that would overcome the capitalist system of domination and the depredation of nature…the ‘South’ is a geopolitical rather than a geographical concept..the ‘South’ is where the exploited and the dominated are….

Luis Fernanda Sarango, Director of the Intercultural University of the Nationalities and Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador, adds that the idea of the University for the People’s of the South is historical and forms part of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Implicitly reiterating the Bolivarian principle of knowledge production for democratic, informed active citizenship, Sarango states:

It’s not about professionalization for the market, so that they keep using us for the market. It is about life.

The idea of a university anchored in a set of principles which explicitly rejects the global market model that is currently in vogue is important, if only as an alternative imaginary. It will be interesting, too, to follow the regionalising project as it unfolds amongst the ALBA partners over the next few years. GlobalHigherEd would welcome any insights and commentary on these projects.

Thomas Muhr