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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez presided over the first “Mission Ribas” graduation ceremony yesterday, awarding 20,686 Venezuelans their high school diplomas.

Recognizing that education is key to eliminating poverty, reducing inequality and "breaking the chains of capitalism," Chávez announced that in order to hasten the deepening of the educational missions and the transformation of the country, Mission Ribas’ budget would be increased to $50 million dollars a month.

The Venezuelan President also honored the 300 Mission Ribas graduates who have been selected to receive scholarships to study holistic community medicine and congratulated the vast majority of the graduates who have enrolled in Mission Sucre, where they will study at a university level, affirming that they demonstrate that the money of the state-owned oil company PdVSA “is not going to waste.”

Initiated in November, 2003 Mission Ribas is a high school remedial program that targets the millions of Venezuelans who were unable to attend or finish high school. The two-year program is divided into two levels: 7th-9th grade and 10th-12th grade. Both levels teach Spanish, mathematics, geography, history, foreign languages and economics, in addition to several electives. Currently there are 718,309 people in Mission Ribas.

It is expected that by the end of the year, over 210,000 will graduate.

For Chávez, the changes in the Venezuelan educational system are "unprecedented" and will play an important role in "break[ing] in the chains of capitalism." Capitalism, Chávez stated, has taken advantage of both the educational system as well as the media to inject the "venom" of materialism and individualism into the people.

"The capitalist system that reigned here for many years converted almost all the universities into schools for the strengthening of this model. They formed generations of mentally deranged people...without a sense of social consciousness and the university system became more elite and was taken over,” said Chavez.

According to Chávez, "the cure for this venom" cannot be decreed; it has to be fought against from within. "We are going to strip this demon forever. This is part of the challenge that we have," he vowed. After pledging to dedicate himself to convince the people that socialism "is the only path to save the homeland," the Venezuelan president assured that the socialism he is referring to is in no way a copy or a reflection of the Cuban model.

"For us the challenge is not to copy any model; that would be a grave error...We say ’long live socialist Cuba,’ but it would be a grave error that someone would try to, with the different era, with the geographical, political and historical differences, to copy a model or try to copy a model for Venezuela, such as the Cuban model or any other," Chávez affirmed.

Although Venezuela is not implementing the Cuban political or educational system, Cuba is supporting the Venezuela in providing technology, methodology, and teacher training courses for the missions. Chávez acknowledged this solidarity in addressing the Cuban Minister of Education, Luis Ignacio Gómez, who was present during the ceremony, thanking him for his country’s cooperation and asking him to "give my commander and Brother Fidel Castro a hug."

Cuba has granted an initial round of 10,000 scholarships to Mission Ribas and Sucre graduates to study holistic community medicine. Last month at the Mission Sucre graduation ceremony, Chávez announced that "within a few years we are going to have 100,000 new specialists in Holistic Community Medicine," adding that soon Venezuela will be able to send a team of doctors to other areas in the world that live in misery.

The Venezuelan President also acknowledged that without the financial support from PdVSA, it would not have been possible to optimize the missions and announced that a monthly budget of $50 million has been allotted towards providing scholarships for students enrolled in Mission Ribas, Sucre, and Robinson.

"PdVSA is now of the people, not of the oligarchy, not of the US empire...Each day our PdVSA continues to put itself at the service of the necessities of the country and it’s national development," affirmed Chávez, adding that the world can forget about cheap oil; "a barrel must cost $40 now."

Increasing the missions’ budget is part of a larger effort to hasten the educational transformation of the country. Chávez urged the Minister of Higher Education, Samuel Moncada, to prioritize the construction of the Bolivarian Universities.

He went on to propose that PdVSA evaluate the possibilities of constructing Bolivarian Universities and residences in the rural areas that belong to the State. "We have to speed up the step in order that the new education model continues to take shape." Chávez affirmed.