| CARACAS, June 2
CARACAS, June 2 Venezuela's government has
published dozens of new textbooks that glorify late president
Hugo Chavez and belittle his adversaries, infuriating opposition
critics who call them part of a campaign to indoctrinate school
Originally introduced in mid-2011, the textbooks have become
a hot-button issue again amid a broad state-run review of the
education system that some fear could boost the ruling Socialist
Party's imprint on classrooms.
"The government has made great efforts to redefine historic
events with an ideological bent, and these books represent that
intention," said Juan Maragall, education secretary in the
opposition-run state of Miranda. "Teachers are concerned."
The books describe Chavez as the man who liberated Venezuela
from tyranny, at times making him appear more important than
19th century founding father Simon Bolivar. Ironically, Bolivar
was the inspiration for Chavez's self-styled socialist
The books present a 2002 coup that briefly toppled Chavez as
an insurrection planned by Washington while playing down the
role of massive opposition protests in this deeply divided
And they are generally dismissive of the traditional
political parties that are the forebears of today's opposition
movement, using the two administrations that preceded Chavez in
power as examples to define the term "in decline."
State officials argue the textbooks foment out-of-the-box
thinking and critical questioning of the U.S.-led capitalist
world order. They insist the bigger issue is the increase in the
number of children in school while Chavez was in office.
The government has distributed 42 million copies of the
textbooks that make up the "Bicentennial Collection," named in
honor of Venezuela's two centuries of independence.
The books were originally going to be obligatory but
officials backed away from that after furious opposition to the
idea. Still, they are widely used because they are free,
reaching an estimated 6 million kids at 80 percent of the
Opposition protesters who have staged three months of
demonstrations to seek President Nicolas Maduro's resignation
have held numerous marches against what they say is the
rewriting of history and the indoctrination of students.
Some have even set some of the books on fire, drawing fierce
rebuke from officials who likened that to Nazi-era book-burning.
The textbooks make frequent mention of Chavez's social
programs that range from free health services to veterinary
care. The books often highlighting the benefits of
government-subsidized stores over their private-sector
"Through the 'My well-equipped House' program, Juanita
bought a 32-inch television and 12 kg washing machine for a
total of 3,555 bolivars," reads a math book for nine-year-olds.
"Had she had bought these goods in a store, she would have
paid 25 percent more for the TV and a third more for the washing
machine. What conclusions can we make by comparing the prices of
one place with the other?"
Maryann Hanson, the former education minister who oversaw
the development of the books, says the Juanita-type examples are
"simple and tailored to the realities our boys and girls."
"(They) seek to foment free thinking, emancipation," she
The opposition backlash has strayed into inaccurate
criticism, helping the government dismiss its critics as an
Some have erroneously claimed that the books say Bolivar,
Venezuela's founding father and Chavez's hero, had a Cuban wet
nurse. Other have insisted some books include the words "rifles
Reuters did not find this information in books it reviewed.
"This is criticism based on lies, we're not going to allow
ourselves to be provoked," said Education Minister Hector
Rodriguez, although he has acknowledged the texts can be
Officials say the debate over education should focus on the
expanded access to education during the Chavez-era including an
16 percentage point increase in school enrollment.
But the books leave few doubts about their overall
inspiration - the first page of each starts with the words "Hugo
Chavez: Supreme Commander of the Bolivarian Revolution."
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by