Education, Foreign Affairs Ministries Affirm: Venezuelan Scholarships not Suspended

CARACAS, July 19, 2015 (WAFA) – The Ministry of Education Sunday announced that the Venezuelan scholarships were not suspended and direct communication with the students is taking place to complete the necessary procedures for the selected students to begin the program.

In a press release which WAFA received, the Ministry described news stories circulated by media outlets about diplomatic tensions as “taken out of context and deformed”, affirming that relations between Palestine and Venezuela remain strong.

The ministry said this scholarship is the not the first of its kind; “about 50 students joined the program in the past few years and 15 are expected to graduate next year after finishing their sixth year under the supervision of a highly qualified team of doctors in cooperation with the Venezuelan government.”

The only difference between this scholarship and the previous ones is the number of students who were accepted to receive the scholarship and undergo the training in Venezuela. The ministry pointed out, “In 2014, the Venezuelan government agreed to award 100 Palestinian students a free education within the framework of a scholarship program named after the late President Yasser Arafat. The program aims to offer 1000 Palestinian students the opportunity to study medicine and train in Venezuela.”

The Ministry further added that the scholarship was advertized on its website and those who were selected meet the criteria set by the Palestinian and Venezuelan sides. It said that even geographical distribution was taken into consideration; students from the West Bank the Gaza Strip, Jordan and Syria were all given the same opportunity.

Following media reports claiming that the ministry has awarded the scholarships to students who didn’t meet the criteria, the ministry challenged any side to provide names of students whose qualifications do not meet the specified criteria.

As for claims that students who graduated from the arts stream for the General Secondary Education Examination or who graduated with low grades were admitted to the program, the ministry distanced itself from the issue affirming that 25 students living in Jordan were granted the scholarship instead of students from Gaza who were not able to leave the strip due to Israeli restrictions of movement.

Those students, said the ministry, were recommended by the Venezuelan Embassy in Jordan when the number of students was not yet complete. The Ministry said that the decision of the Embassy was to avoid losing the scholarships.

Once the ministry of Education and the Palestinian Embassy in Venezuela realized that these students were selected randomly without meeting the requirements of the scholarship or being sure that they are interested in studying medicine, the Venezuelan side was informed and the students were suspended from the program and placed in apartments outside of the student’ dorms until they are returned to their home countries.

The ministry added, “After the students were informed that they are suspended from the program, they rioted and manipulated other students from the West Bank and Gaza, especially those who had no intentions to study from the beginning. The Palestinian Embassy and the ministry followed the situation closely and ordered these students be flown back home.”

Many students, explained the ministry, dropped out of the program for personal reasons and not because of the quality of the program unlike media reports which quoted some of the students. The ministry praised the program offered by Venezuela and described it as “one of the best medical accomplishments which helped reduce the high mortality rate among women and children.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs affirmed that diplomatic relations between Palestine and Venezuela remain “strong and deep” after numerous news reports claiming a diplomatic strain following the decision of many students to drop out from the program.

According to a press release, the ministry and the Palestinian embassy in Venezuela firmly denied what media outlets described as diplomatic tensions.

On the Venezuelan side, the presidency asserted the depth of Venezuelan-Palestinian relations denying media reports claiming otherwise and affirmed that this incident will not affect the program which aims to train 1000 Palestinian students in the field of medicine and is expected to expand to include other academic fields in the future.

The same sources pointed out that the story which broke out through Venezuelan Opposition newspaper was picked up and circulated by Israeli media outlets and newspapers.

The Ministry of Education through its deputy minister Jason Gusman said that “The economic and media war waged against Venezuela aims to jeopardize the educational system and the scholarships offered to Venezuelan and international students.” It added that the Venezuelan government is working continuously to protect these scholarships and youths’ right to education as a basic human right without being limited to a certain class.

Both Palestinian and Venezuelan officials were certain that the story was widely publicized to damage the deep relations between a Palestine and Venezuela, the country of the late President Hugo Chavez who was a vocal proponent of the Palestinians’ right to statehood.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Malki commented on the incident saying, “We continue to work with the official authorities in Venezuela to bring new students to study medicine and other specializations offered by universities and schools in Venezuela.”

He concluded, “The reaction of the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro after the story was to invite Palestinian students on Saturday to celebrate with them on the occasion of Eid el-Fitr [which follows the holy month of Ramadan]  to make them feel welcome and among their family while away from home.” Al-Malki announced that Maduro plans on holding a press conference with the Palestinian students to affirm the importance of the scholarships offered to Palestinians and its continuation despite attempts by the opposition to foil this experience.”