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October 30, 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014

Senate votes to nationalize Mothers’ university

Senators prepare to vote yesterday on the nationalization of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo University.
By Santiago Del Carril
Herald Staff

Victory Front (FpV) lawmakers reject claims from opposition that debt would be absorbed

Amid heated exchanges and accusations, the Senate give its approval late last night to the nationalization of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo University, to be renamed the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Human Rights University Institute.

The bill was approved with 39 votes in favour and 23 against. It will now be discussed in the Lower House of Congress.

In a direct response to “comments made recently in the media,” the ruling Victory Front (FpV) began the debate by emphasizing that none of the debt held by the existing privately-held university would be absorbed by the state and that there would be no impact on ongoing investigations into a scandal linked to Madres’ former financial manager, Sergio Schoklender.

Opposition senators have vehemently opposed the creation of the new university on the basis that the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Foundation, which controls the educational institution, has a debt estimated of at least 200 million pesos, accrued in part under Schoklender’s management.

Radical party (UCR) Senator Ge-rardo Morales insisted that the debt that the university holds with the AFIP tax bureau for unpaid social security payments would be absorbed by the state. Fellow opposition senators connected the foundation to the university itself, despite objections from Kirchnerite representatives.

Senator Eduardo Aguilar (FpV-Chaco), however, insisted that “the transfer of assets, staff and rights from the private to the public sphere does not include any debts.”

The Federal Peronist bloc found the connections between alleged corruption at the Foundation and the transfer tenuous, while San Luis Senator Liliana Negre de Alonso based her support for an “academic programme that has nothing to do with the Schoklenders” while announcing that her bloc would support the nationalization.

Meanwhile, UCR Senator Mario Cimadevilla took the opportunity to say that he was against the Supreme Court ruling that deemed unconstitutional the Due Obedience Law that granted impunity to lower-rank officials accused of crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship.

Package of Universities

The Madres de Plaza de Mayo University Institute was one of three universities voted on last night. Bills to create the Comechingones University in San Luis province and to convert the National Arts Institute into a university received near unanimous support.

At press time, senators were discussing the creation of a National Defence university.

According to the bill which calls for the nationalization of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo University, authored by the Executive Branch, there is a lack of a comprehensive and dedicated institute for the human rights education at the federal level and Argentina’s history of human rights violations, and as such “there is a recognition of the broad need to create a Human Rights University Institute.” The institute will focus on human rights research, education and training for state officials, educators and the media, among others. The bill then identifies the privately-run Madres de Plaza de Mayo University for nationalization to that end.

The university’s origins, however, are controversial due to its ties to one of its founders: Sergio Schoklender. Schoklender stands accused of embezzlement but was one of the main creators of the education institute.

“For six months we worked tirelessly, above all Sergio (Schoklender) and on April 6, 2000 the university was born,” said Bonafini in the university’s founding letter.

The embezzlement scandal broke out in 2011, when Schoklender and other associates were alleged to have diverted funds provided by the state to be allocated to social housing project of “Mission: Shared Dreams” organized by Madres. This has caused the organization to have a debt worth millions of dollars with the National Audit Office (AGN) reporting that that Sergio Schoklender had paid himself 23 million pesos while his brother Pablo received 13 million pesos, and his construction company Meldorek received 4.4 million pesos.

Transformation on the cards

Consulted about how a future nationalization would alter the existing setup, Gonzalo Seoane, a Madres de Plaza de Mayo spokesperson told the Herald that “it would change from being an institute for human rights, to a university backed by the ministry of Human Rights.”

But the spokesman emphasized that although it would be under the arm of the Human Rights and Justice and Education ministries, the “university’s authorities would still be the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organization.”

The spokesman was short on details, saying that since the bill wasn’t approved yet there wasn’t much information but that if the bill were to pass this would enable several new university programmes. At the moment the university offers social work, history and law degrees.

An off the record source who formerly worked for Madres de Plaza de Mayo told the Herald that project was critical because many of the university employees were receiving paychecks months late and many had been fired due to the lack of funds — he had been one of those.

“We don’t want 30 or 40 workers on the street, I think it is good that the state pays for this,” he told the Herald.

The university — also known as the Popular University — was created in 2000 by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo human rights organization. Its aim is to generate tools to contest “intellectual hegemony, creating a space for the popular sectors and new social movements so that they can participate and create a new political system.”

The university is geared toward “overcoming the education system practices that legitimized oppression.”

@delcarril

Additional reporting by Tomás Brockenshire

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