'Hugo Chavez studies': Venezuela's latest academic trend
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Students rise to their feet as a uniformed Venezuelan brigadier-general enters a large classroom at a Caracas military institute and proclaims: "Chavez lives!"
In unison, they reply: "The fight goes on!" before settling at their desks for an hour-long lecture punctuated with references to Venezuela's late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last year.
A new academic course in Venezuela, "Studies of the Thoughts of the Supreme Commander Hugo Chavez", has been set up by the military and already attracted more than 10,000 students.
Critics deride it as a North Korean-style personality deification, while proponents say the course promotes humanist values and ideals espoused by Chavez that both Venezuela and a materialistic wider world badly need.
"Chavez, for us, is the bringing of Bolivarian thought into the 21st century," the brigadier-general, Moises Villarroel, tells his class of about 50 students in reference to revered South American 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Military personnel from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua are dotted among the mainly Venezuelan soldiers who make up his audience at a defense studies center.
The course, which can form part of a degree or post-graduate studies, traces Chavez's philosophical roots from Bolivar to other Venezuelan thinkers and anti-colonial heroes like Simon Rodriguez, Ezequiel Zamora, Francisco Miranda and Antonio Sucre.
It analyzes Chavez's boyhood in a rural shack, his love of baseball, his years in the military and failed coup attempt, the election victory that brought him to power, and the 1999-2013 presidency that made him a hero for many of Venezuela's poor but an anti-democratic strongman to foes. Continued...