Venezuelan Official’s Role in SEP Causes Uproar
By MARK LORENZANA
The presence of former Venezuelan government official Sady Arturo Loaiza Escalona in the content-design team of Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) has caused an uproar among educational experts in the country.
Loaiza Escalona, who until 2018 was in the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, political heir to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, has been working since last year as deputy director of Educational Materials at the SEP, a department headed by director Marx Arriaga.
As deputy director, Loaiza Escalona is in charge of the “analysis and pedagogical redesign of materials” of the government agency. According to 2022 contracts that Mexican daily newspaper Reforma examined, Loaiza Escalona received payment of fees from the SEP to reformulate educational content for junior high school students, in addition to participating with Arriaga in the preparation of basic education textbooks.
On December 12, Arriaga bid “goodbye” via his Twitter account and said that he will return on April 7 of this year because “all my strength will be in the innovation of free basic education textbooks.”
His second in command in this task is Loaiza Escalona, who was director of the National Library of Venezuela between 2014 and 2018.
Loaiza Escalona was also an official of the Venezuelan state company CVA Compañía de Mecanizado Agrícola y Transporte Pedro Camejo, SA, and manager of the Office for the Promotion of Fisheries Development and Related Activities of the Socialist Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INSOPESCA), which is attached to Venezuela’s Ministry of People’s Power for Agriculture and Land.
He was also General Director of Special Projects of the Ministry of Popular Power for Communes and Social Movements, according to his résumé.
The 42-year-old Loaiza Escalona described himself, according to the Reforma report, as “passionate about communication, books, cooking and culture” as well as a “teacher 24 hours a day” and has more than 15 years of experience in training and human talent management.
Alma Maldonado, a researcher at the Educational Research Department of the Center of Investigation and Advanced Studies (Cinvestav), said she believes the important work of creating educational content should be left to pedagogical experts.
“We have people who have worked on public books, on private books; we have all kinds of professionals. The books must be treated with the most careful preparation possible,” said Maldonado.
For educational policy analyst Eduardo Andere, the SEP should not have thinkers from the left or the right, neo-Marxists or neoliberals writing textbooks, but rather learning psychologists and experts in pedagogy.
“Who do you hire to support you to send that message, to indoctrinate the teachers in Mexico, so that they in turn indoctrinate the little ones with a single way of thinking? That is a serious mistake,” Andere warned.
Meanwhile, Carolina Crowley, a specialist in pedagogy, said she believes it is striking that an official with no history of educational work in the country arrives in Mexico and immediately lands a management position in the SEP.
For his part, Marco Fernández, a specialist from Tec de Monterrey University and think tank México Evalúa, said that the new books being developed by the SEP do not respond to the educational needs in the country that must be resolved, but “rather to a rhetoric that appeals to the members of a social class who feel that they are oppressed.”
Fernández said the educational materials do not correspond to a pedagogy that can translate into better learning for problem solving, for the development of critical thinking, resilience, reading comprehension, the ability to express oneself verbally and in writing correctly and the proper use of mathematics.
“It will be very nice for the rhetoric of Marx Arriaga and his ideology, but not so for the urgent need in educational matters that children and young people have to learn that allows them to become better citizens and achieve both knowledge and skills to successfully integrate into the world of work,” Fernández said.
According to another Reforma report, as director of the National Library of Venezuela, a position he held between 2014 and 2018, Loaiza Escalona participated in rallies, marches and campaigns in defense of Chávez and the Maduro regime.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has vehemently denied allegations that he is turning Mexico into the next Venezuela. He has, however, been compared to Venezuela’s Chávez by media outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in 2021, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote, “Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — a.k.a. AMLO — has been known to bristle when critics liken him to the late Hugo Chávez. But the parallels between the spirit of Mr. López Obrador’s two-year-old government and that of the Venezuelan strongman’s in its early years are impossible to ignore.”
More recently, on Nov. 23 of last year, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bret Stephens wrote an opinion column in the New York Times titled “Will Mexico be the next Venezuela?”
“Why would the president — who won in a landslide and maintains a high approval rating, thanks to a cult-of-personality style of politics and a policy of cash transfers to the poor, his core constituency — go after the crown jewel of the country’s civil institutions? Isn’t he supposed to represent the forces of popular democracy?” wrote Stephens.
In 2015, López Obrador professed his admiration for Chávez in a tweet on his official Twitter account.