Archive for April 25th, 2009

Intolerant Government fires retiring tenured researcher

April 25, 2009

This is a remarkable story of the intolerance and selective repression pc_1_1024 of the Venezuelan Government which ignores the law and at the same time has little respect for those that have spent their life working in and for Venezuela, accomplishing what few do.

Jaime Requena is a biologist with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He is a distinguished and accomplished scientist with over 100 publications to his name (including three books). He has worked at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research and IDEA, a research foundation established in the 80’s  and is a member of the Venezuelan Academy of Sciences. He was even President of IDEA in 1988. In 1996 he was appointed to the Simon Bolivar Chair at Cambridge University. And that is when his problems began…

I like Jaime because he is quite irreverent and outspoken, you may remember the active role he took up to block Chavez from receiving an Honorary Degree from Cambridge, which I published here. . He is not the type to be quieted down easily. In 1997, after spending a year at Cambridge he asked for a months’ leave of absence, a typically routine and automatic procedure in Venezuelan academic institutions. He needed to stay in Cambridge to finish off a few things he had done there. He never received a reply, but thought nothing of it and stayed. He came back to find out that he had been fired. Firing somebody with tenure is not an easy procedure in Venezuela. In fact, firing someone Venezuela’s civil service  is fairly hard But Jaime was even fired without following the procedures. Three members of the Board of IDEA took advantage of this procedure to get rid of him.

Jaime spent a decade fighting his firing in the Courts and went all the way to the Venezuelan Supreme Court and won. IDEA had to hire him back and pay all his back salary. His firing however, stopped his career as an experimental biologist. During the years of his fight, he worked at Universidad Metropolitana, a private university, where he was General Manager of its foundation and did research on Venezuela’s scientific productivity and history. He compiled what is by far the most extensive and complete database of Venezuelan scientific researchers and published  papers.

When he was hired back by IDEA, Requena’s lab had been taken apart, so he tried to continue his reaserch on Venezuela’s scientific productivity. But he was clearly not wanted at IDEA. Jaime not only disagrees with the direction science policy has taken in Venezuela, but in 2008 wrote a letter to prestigious scientific journal Nature, denouncing the exclusion of social sciences from public financing by  the Chavez administration. Requena says that the only time he met the Head of IDEA, he recriminated him for writing the letter.

Requena’s life at IDEA was rough, he had no furniture in his office, had to supply it himself, was given nobody to help with his research and was not even given a computer. His access to a database needed for his work was restricted. Requena thus decided to request his retirement, given that he had worked for 41 years for the Venezuelan Government, more than sufficient to retire. He also requested that he be named Emeritus researcher of IDEA.

Instead, eleven days later he was fired for “immoral conduct”, “omissions which affect the security of the workplace” and “grave faults in his duties”.  The decision was made by the Head of IDEA and there was no meeting of the Board of Directors of the institution as required by its by-laws.

This was clearly political in nature. The argument by the Prsedient of IDEA was that Requena was still holding  his position at Universidad Metropolitana, which is not the case as he resigned when he rejoined IDEA and that he had requested that IDEA buy for him a software package which that University sells, which the President of IDEA called a conflict of interest. Requena needs that software for his research as it is the one that he had been using for years while at Metropolitana. Requena continued to be involved with the activities of the Foundation, but was not getting paid for it.

This is the arrogant and intollerant way in which the revolution with few accomplishments treats Venezuelans that have disntiguished themselves in their careers devoted to working for the Government with low salaries and limited funding, but managing to achieve international and national recognition for their work. Requena represents what Chavismo hates, knowledge, accomplishments and excellence, something quite rare among the Government’s supporters. That is why IDEA’s President Prudencio Chacon, whose scientific career pales in comparison with Requena’s, took it upon himself to fire him and thus remove from his surroundings someone that he envies and who openly opposes the Government he loyally represents.