An academic exchange between Palestine and Venezuela has taken a turn for the worst as Palestinian students defect from the program to return home to the West Bank. The Associated Press reports:
The program to train young Palestinians as doctors was to be the latest addition to an array of international solidarity programs the late President Hugo Chavez established[…] But eight months later, about a third of the Palestinians have dropped out, complaining the program lacks academic rigor […] At least 29 already have gone home, while the other dropouts have stayed on living rent-free as they wait to receive plane tickets.
The Yasser Arafat Scholarship Program was to include seven years of room and board at the Dr. Salvador Allende medical school, staffed by primarily Cuban doctors. Initially, scholarship recipients were elated to flee refugee camps and the violence of Gaza to pursue their dreams of studying medicine. However:
The students who dropped out complain that their first year consisted only of Spanish language lessons and indoctrination about Venezuela’s 16-year-old socialist revolution. They say they were surprised when their teachers presented a curriculum centered on community health and worried when doctors from other institutions warned that their education wouldn’t meet international standards.
If there’s any sure sign of trouble in paradise, it’s when droves of young Gazans abandon free medical education for the horrors of the war-torn West Bank. In an attempt to save face, school officials in Venezuela have attributed the students’ dissatisfaction to mere homesickness. In a way, that wouldn’t be surprising. Venezuela recently registered a record breaking number of cases of tropical diseases such as malaria, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya. Factor in the homicide rate in Caracas, which is itself not unlike that of a war-zone, and it’s difficult to blame the Palestinian students for being homesick in the first place.
But while there’s room for speculation, the failure of the program certainly underscores the shortcomings in Venezuela’s socialized health care sector and the general tumult that has characterized the nation lately. Venezuelan opposition parties hope that National Assembly elections, scheduled for December 6th, will bring about substantive changes within the country. But if Venezuela’s history of dubious elections is any guide, they shouldn’t expect very much.