Science at risk in Venezuela

30 May 2009 | While everyone was watching the Chavez show, another interesting one was developing in Venezuelan science, which made the fascist science comissars come out of their caves to cry right-wing conspiracy as usual.

It all began with a letter written by the head of the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Science published in the prestigious journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The letter addresses the main problems facing Venezuelan Science under Chavez. You can see the original here, but since it has little waste here is the full text:

The Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences would like to share with the international scientific community our fears for the present and future fate of science and higher education in our country. A number of worrisome recent events and our interpretations of their implications motivate our concern:

1. The president of our country has stated what he believes science should be in Venezuela and has created his own initiatives for workable lines of scientific research (1).

2. At all levels of the national scientific establishment, inexperienced professionals with little scientific or technical knowledge or background have been appointed to positions of authority. They have been chosen on the basis of their loyalty to the political party in power. This approach precludes a constructive dialogue with the R&D community and curtails academic freedom of research.

3. The Ministry of State for Science, Technology, and Intermediate Industries controls discretionary use of resources collected from the private sector (2). Some of these resources, which were previously allotted to researchers according to the nature  and quality of their research proposals, are now being centralized and distributed according to the “social aim” of the research proposal.

4. The government has decided to create some 40 new universities but has not published a plan to provide them with suitable academic staff.

5. Universities and centers of research have been subjected to drastic budget cuts, which severely affect most current research programs. Restrictions have been imposed on the acquisition of scientific literature and information as well as of access to Internet (3).

6. The loss of intellectual capital to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, France, Spain, and other countries has accelerated (4). Young scientists, technology experts, physicians, and engineers are leaving the country. The process started in 2003 with the firing of some more than 800 researchers from the Venezuelan Institute of Petroleum Research.

7. We believe that Dr. Raimundo Villegas, an emblematic researcher of Venezuela and founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IDEA), a wide-scope research institute, was forced into retirement by the Directory from his post of tenured professor of IDEA. His departure was accompanied by the cessation of IDEA’s support of the Latin American Academy of Sciences (ACAL) (; this support was stated in ACAL’s foundation charter. ACAL has an office in Venezuela that has been headed by Dr. Villegas since its creation 25 years ago.

8. Dr. Jaime Requena, who had applied for retirement, was instead fired from his tenured post at IDEA. This appears to have been a result of a personal decision of the Institute Director, as it occurred without the expected and due legal procedures.
The above-mentioned observations represent just a fraction of the many actions that clearly reveal an aim of the government to control all of the national scientific activity and the higher education system, putting Venezuela’s scientific activities at risk.


1. B. Casassus, Science 324, 1126 (2009).
2. Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela, Fonacit;
3 Gaceta Oficial Numero 38.145, 25 March 2009.
4. I. de la Vega, Mundos en Movimiento: El Caso de la Movilidad y Migración de los Científicos y Tecnologos Venezolanos (Ediciones Fundacion Polar-IVIC,Venezuela, 2005).

22 May 2009; accepted 27 May 2009
Published online 28 May 2009; 10.1126/science.1176733

Because of this letter the journal asked Barbara Cassasus to look into the matter and in the same issue in which the letter appeared last Thursday, Science published this article on the travails of Venezuelan scientists under Chavez written by Cassasus. The article includes the drop in publishing by Venezuelan scientists, Chavez naming Lt. Colonel Chacon with no prior experience in science as Minister and admonishing him “put the screws” on the scientists as well as the firing of Jaime Requena when he requested his retirement from IDEA, a scientfic research institution.

I have written about some of these topics before Requena’s firing. In the article in science the other Chacon (not related), Prudencio, the Comissar of Chavez at IDEA repeats his lies that Requena was fired because: 1) He worked at two institutions (a University Foundation and IDEA at the same time; 2) He ordered a software that benefited him personally and; 3) He left work a few times without permission from his supervisor.

Chacon is a good Comissar of the robolution and believes that a lie said many times becomes the truth. In fact, he somehow found out about my post on the matter and dared put a comment with the same old lies.

To put these lies aside, once and for all, on the charge that Requena worked at two institutions at the same time, I have uploaded two files to the web: Requena’s letter of resignation in January 2007 and his severance pay receipt a couple of weeks later, which clearly prove that Requena quit his job at the Foundation. I have also uploaded the terms of purchase of software from University which includes the software that Requena helped design (he used it in his research on the productivity of Venezuelan science) which clearly states that only the University benefits from the software and not those that helped develop it. Maybe Chacon wanted him to use a pirated a copy?

Finally, the third charge is absolutely ridiculous and shows the clear malice and bad faith behind Requena’s firing: Nobody fires a tenured researcher near retirement because he left work without telling his supervisor. This would be a first in Venezuelan science.

But the most remarkable part of the story was that Prudencio Chacon and the Vice-President of IDEA Miguel Angel Perez Pirela went on the Government’s propaganda channel VTV and put up the most absurd and hysterical (not for being funny, but for the hysteria they showed) performance of their lifetime. By the way, the information I have is that Perez Pirela, who has no science background and claims to be an expert on bioethics, gets paid not only by IDEA, but also by the Foreign Ministry and the Presidency of the National Assembly, besides having a car and driver. I wonder if he will be fired for that?

In any case, Chacon first came on and told us what a wonderful institution he presides at IDEA, whose object is not to publish, but has a new modern (??) concept of science whose purpose is to give service to the people, solving their problems so that they will have better quality of life. Clearly, this in no way describes science and the quality of the BS in some sense proves part of the points of the letter above by the President of the Academy.

Then came on the second in command, sub-comissar I guess must be his position, and referred to the article in Science. First he pointed put that it was a journalist who wrote it for Science. Then he explains that Science is a medium for propaganda for American science and which does not have much importance in the world of knowledge. He even dared say that at some point in time, Science was an important and significant journal, but has lost its audience, which is patently another lie, a big one at that. Then came the typical Marxist/Chavista dialectic of disqualifying Science by attaching it labels when he said that Science responds to something like ” the most reactionary north American right wing” and was clearly wrong on everything. He then proceeded to make the connection to the same reactionary right wing in Venezuela via the Academy of Sciences and the Venezuelan Association for the Advancement of Science (which as far as I know encompasses 99% of active Venezuelan scientists). He even said something to the effect that the publication of the letter was proof of the conspiracy of the endogenous right and the imperialist right backed by obscure reactionary interests that only want to….yes! destabilize Chavez’ Presidency!

At this point, the little rabbi (Rabinito),as he is called behind his back, raised his voice and started shouting why the Science article was wrong. He said Venezuela had the highest spending per capita in the world on science, that the drop in publications was not important, that is not how the revolution measures it, but represents an oligarchic methodology so that the great centers of capital can maintain control over knowledge. He then talked about the thousands of scientists (!!) that Chavez’ Government has incorporated into science.  He claimed that IDEA went from 10 researchers to 110 since 1999. (He did not say that even students and technicians and even the person that feeds the rats are now called scientists)

I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture with the above distortions and lies by the two of the scientific Commisars of the robolution. I am not sure who watches VTV in mid-morning on Friday, but these two guys had nothing better to do than to try to take advantage of VTV’s 4% rating to convince them that everything is peachy in Venezuelan science and the scientists are a bunch of liars.

A true charade and hysterical performance that went on for a while, I hope somebody puts the video on the Internet.

Written by Miguel Octavio