Claudio Bifano is a Professor at the Central University of Venezuela and a member of the Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.
By the end of the 20th century, Venezuela had a scientific community that in just four decades had managed to rank among the first in productivity in Latin America. This achievement was achieved thanks to an adequate use of the resources —a small percentage of the GDP— that the governments of the day, which, even without valuing the true meaning of science for economic development and the well-being of society, annually allocated to scientific activity. In the early years of what we call the beginning of organized science in the country, these funds were mostly administered by researchers in the basic sciences, who designed the first policies for their organization and development. It should be emphasized that although Venezuela came to figure in the scientific milieu along with other countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, the governments that the country had between the 1950s and 1990s did not consider science as a matter of interest to the State, nor did they design policies for its development. This achievement was the result of the effort and long-range vision of the researchers who were in charge of its management. Until the 1970s, researchers in the basic sciences were responsible for the design and planning of scientific activity. And although in the eighties and nineties the management of the State entity destined for these purposes, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICIT), which had also been created at the initiative of the scientific community, was no longer in the hands of researchers, the role of scientists was always decisive for its functioning. Therefore, it is not risky to say that the development of science in Venezuela was the product of initiatives by researchers rather than of State policies.
In Venezuela, as in other countries in the region, science was never an important variable in the equation of economic and social development. It was rather regarded as something that was convenient to do more as an expression of the culture of society than as a real means of development. The availability of economic resources, which depended essentially on the prices of the barrel of oil on the international market, allowed some money to be used to improve higher education, strengthen the infrastructure of research centers and laboratories, and thus advance the process of creating new knowledge and consideration of the need to link it more and more to the production of goods and services. But, it must be reiterated, all this happened without the state requesting it based on programs it had established for the development of the country. It was in this way that the policy guidelines that served as the basis for the creation and development of organized science in the country were built.
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