IVIC: A Very Personal Story

November 27, 2014

Ivic(Here in Spanish)

I wasn’t born at IVIC (Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientifícas, the Venezuelan Institute for Scientifc Research), but for a large fraction of my existence, I actually felt almost like I was. (Which was actually possible, since IVIC has housing for researchers, except it did not exist the year I was born). Thus, it is actually quite painful to see how the fake revolution wants to erase its past, turn it into something different than it should be and simply destroy in the revolution’s ignorance what that institution has meant for Venezuela.

For those that don’t know what is going on, the Venezuelan National Assembly approved in its first discussion a project to change IVIC’s bylaws, including changing its name, its objectives, how it is run, essentially erasing the proud history of an institution that contributed quite a bit to the scientific, educational, academic and technological institutionality in the country. The project was supposedly promoted and written by PSUV Deputy Guido Ochoa, a Ph.D. in Forest Science, with a fairly unimpressive publication list, but who apparently believes he knows what is good and best for Venezuelan science.

Reportedly, not even the authorities of IVIC, mostly pro-revolution, knew of the Bill, approved in its first discussion and the project was not consulted with any of the scientific community of IVIC, so much for the much ballyhooed “participatory” democracy of Chavismo. Among other pearls, the Bill replaces the researchers Assembly, which approves such things as promotions to tenure and policy, by an all-employee Assembly, where to decide such important matters, any employee who has been at IVIC for one year will participate and all students will be part of it. IVIC’s name is changed to IVECIT (Instituto Venezolano de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación) and the changes are made so that “science will no longer be shut in in the laboratories, which will allow “el pueblo” and the communities to permanently build technological elements for the transformation of the country”

What a bunch of inflated and supercharged BS, which only shows the ignorance of those that promoted it and wrote it. They are simply unqualified to even be involved in scientific and technological planning in Venezuela.

The project goes on to spew similar BS about the relationship of the new Institution with the community so that the Institute can protect the” habitat, the integral health, the economic and social institutions, culture, uses, customs and values”

Unadulterated, empty and ignorant words if you ask me. A Government that gets rid of the Ministry of the Environment, disregards all of the terrible environmental disasters in the country (Maracaibo, Guayana, air via cheap gas and the like) now wants to impose these criteria on an institution that has been a pioneer on this subject. (When I was at IVIC, too many years ago, there was an Environmental Engineering Department, which I see survives to date, under the name of “Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory” with Eugenio Sanhueza still leading it)

And just as you think that this stuff can’t be written by anyone with some intelligence, the IVIC project, as approved by the Assembly, also states that the new Bill will allow IVIC to respect the identity, the languages and religions, the “cosmovisons” (Whatever that means), the spirituality and sacred and worship places. Equally, it will respect “the collective intellectual rights of knowledge, technology and innovations of all communities and the exchange of wisdom, according to constitutional principles.”

Yes, it is really hard to make this stuff up.

Many years ago, in the late sixties, I showed up at IVIC to inquire about the possibilities of working in the labs of the Physics Department. I had just finished my Freshman year, didn’t really know much Physics, but knew what I wanted to do (I thought!) with the rest of my life: Experimental Physics. I was told to come back with certain information about me, grades and the like, and take an aptitude test. I did, and a few weeks later I was called and told that I had been accepted for a summer internship. When I showed up, I was told I would get Bs. 300 per month (All of US$ 70 per month at the time) and a food card that would give me lunch daily at the Institute’s restaurant. I could not believe my good luck.

My first day at IVIC, I was told to go meet my adviser, Roberto Callarotti, who turned out to be a much (like very much) younger  guy that I imagined, who welcomed me with enthusiasm and introduced me to a very funny maracucho who had a poster of a naked guy at a beach with an umbrella and a sign attached to it that said “Experimental Hydrologist at work”. He was hydrologist Ignacio Rodriguez Iturbe,  now a Distinguished University Professor at Princenton, a Venezuelan so distinguished that I will let you judge him by his CV.

It was a very auspicious beginning, even if I did not know or grasped it. Roberto would become my mentor, supporter and friend.

From then on, IVIC played a huge role in my life. I spent three summers as an intern. Then IVIC gave me a felllowship to go get a Ph.D. abroad, with a contract that said I had to come back when I finished. How could I not? Good people, my country, lots of opportunity. After four and a half years I came back at the tender age of 28, IVIC was an exciting place to be, lots of interesting and smart people, you got the feeling Venezuela was going somewhere, in science and everything else. My life was research, my life became IVIC. I took on students, found money for research and got support from lots of people. We did good work, published papers, sent more students abroad, even started an engineering research institute.

I had some wonderful colleagues at IVIC, some have passed away, other have moved on, and some were pushed out by the revolution even if they were still doing world quality research after their retirement age. The revolution does not tolerate excellence and competence.

Not everything was ideal. Soon I learned that politics, not science, played too important a role at IVIC. At one of my first Assembly of Researchers, I was given the very impressive CV of a biologist who was up for tenure. To my surprise, 15 people, out of about 100, voted against, just because of politics. (Years later I would be very proud that I did not get a single vote against me in the same process). But the toughest part came after the 1983 devaluation. Budgets were decimated, the work I did was expensive (Experimental low temperature physics) and a roller coaster of budgets  and devaluations that has existed to this day began.

But I still thought at the time that I would spend my life at IVIC.

In 1992, there was a strike by the workers, they wanted more privileges without doing all that researchers did. I was even Sub-Director of IVIC for 21 days after the strike. (A story on its own) At that point I realized that it would be difficult to do first class research work in my field with the low budgets and all the difficulties, I began thinking that I should leave the country if I wanted to continue doing Physics. Instead, I was lucky enough to find an exciting job in finance, where I still am today.

But I spent more of my life at IVIC that at any institution so far in my life.

The revolution has not been kind to IVIC, it bypassed its bylaws to name Directors, it brought people in for ideological reasons. I am glad I was no longer there. But many people remained, working hard, truly devoted, trying to continue doing world quality research against all odds and with limited resources, teaching courses, supervising research thesis in a fairly adverse atmosphere.

And with the proposed new law of IVIC, the discussion seems to be going back to what I thought were very byzantine discussions thirty years ago: Trying to justify IVIC’s existence. IVIC began with basic science, the job it has done has been outstanding. With a budget that has oscillated between US$ 10 and 20 million per year it has been a bargain. Rounding errors in the inefficiency and waste of Venezuela’s budgets. And with this meager budgets, IVIC not only did world class research, it helped institutionalize research in Venezuela, trained thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. That would have been enough, but IVIC also helped create other institutions, such as Intevep, the oil institute destroyed by Chávez in 2003, the Institute for Engineering, IDEA and the blood processing company Quimbiotec. IVIC also helped populate Venezuelan universities with high level academics who did research in all fields, while developing technologies and doing consulting and services, a natural byproduct of basic scientific research.That’s the natural evolution of every basic research system in the world, some stay doing research for the rest of their lives, others let their drive and dreams take them elsewhere, whether it is technology, innovation or development work in the private sector.

And now some embittered and failed Chavista scientist wants to impose his ignorant vision on IVIC, wants to erase history, wants to wipe out its distinguished history to replace it with a new institution with little link to its successful past. And note that with all the ruckus of the last week after the new Bill was approved, the Government is supposedly now willing to “discuss” the Bill, not withdraw it. A sure sign that Chavismo is not going to back down, but simply entrap the IVIC community into a discussion to later approve the current monstrous Bill and say it was approved thanks to the oxymoronic Chavista participative democracy. But the end result will not be that different than what has already been approved.

This is a Government that thinks that science and technology involves buying US$ 400 million Chinese satellites (Yes, two of them!), rather than developing its own. A government that has total contempt for excellence and  expertise. A Government that does not like discussing ideas, or tolerate people that think differently. A Government that has proven to be clueless as to what science is or where it should go and has named very limited  and non-scientific characters to preside over the science sector, including the current President of the Central Bank, the current Vice-President and the current President of Corpoelec. All of them promoted to those positions temporarily to give them a perk while another position awaited for them, but who had not clue as to what science is or where it should go. But men loyal to the process, to the revolution and its destructive ambitions. None of them will raise a finger to save IVIC at this junction.

It is a wonder that they bother with something with a small significance in the scale of the huge the problems the country faces. But small men, fight small battles. They react to their resentments, hates and picayune ambitions and goals. That is all this is.

It is simply another step in the ability of Chavismo to destroy without creating reasonable or decent alternatives. Anyone that thinks they will back down from this, should think again. Chavismo likes control, not open discussion, democracy or technological progress. The “people” will be used and abused only in name, only in that they will be mentioned until Chavismo has its trophy: The destruction of a distinguished, honorable and efficient institution and what its memory entails.

51 Responses to “IVIC: A Very Personal Story”

  1. David Says:

    I am extremely saddened to read this personal story. I have many friends in the anthropology department. My father taught there many years ago. I am a student myself and had considered studying in Venezuela, and possibly ivic. I have been there in 2011 and 2013 and have kindled a kind of friendship with the institution. I have an innate urge to make a life in venezuela and to begin my next phase of my academic career there but I confess I am worried about the political situation and this recent “takeover” of IVIC. As a Venezuela-American I am tugged between the two worlds. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you and your family all the best.

  2. moses Says:

    Jaime Requena used to work in IDEA, see his twitter account here: https://twitter.com/jaimerequena

  3. moses Says:

    Please take a look at this link provided in Caracas Chronicles about the war against science in Venezuela: http://www.el-nacional.com/edgar_cherubini/complot-ciencia-Venezuela_0_527947402.html

  4. Jim Padian Says:

    IVIC was a much admired scientific institution during the years I lived in Venezuela (74-82) and undoubtedly for many years thereafter. I am saddened, but not surprised, to hear of its subsequent decline.

  5. Diana Says:

    La situation de los estudiantes es quizas la mas desesperada. Yo me encuentro básicamente en la mitad de mi programa de doctorado, que será de mi ahora?

  6. moses Says:

    The buildongs were ready by 84, but it was started earlier Raimundo Villegas was the motor behind it, I knew people who worked here so I now part of the story… Jaime Requena worked there so he is a good souce

  7. Miguel Octavio Says:

    Weird, but I guess it was founded earlier, when LHC was elected….

  8. Miguel Octavio Says:

    Idea was founded in 84…

  9. moses Says:

    Just a quick comment of a similar Institute, the IDEA.

    Its founder, Raimundo Villegas, recently passed away (See these two articles: this one by Rafael Polanco http://www.el-nacional.com/rafael_palacios/Villegas_0_508749269.html and this one about the history of IVIC: http://www.cdc.fonacit.gob.ve/DB/conicit/edocs/2013/tabla/Cpitulo-IV-El-Ivic-en-cuatro-momentos.pdf

    If you see history the official website of IDEA you will see a gaping hole between 1980 and 1999, where “nothing happened”: http://www.idea.gob.ve/contenido.php?pag=5 so you see where the IVIC is headed ….

  10. Ricardo Suarez-Gartner Says:

    What a sad story. As an expatriate and a fellow former researcher at all I can say is “requiescant in pace, IVIC” – Someone should write a song titled “Adios a Pipe”…

  11. HalfEmpty Says:

    Mark. 19:53, December 1, 2014. Snow noted at CC.

  12. Yuzhou Lin Says:

    I google your picture. it is younger you in Lab,very handsome

  13. Vixtor Says:

    Venezuela is drifting apart. Poor country…”El pueblo tiene el gobierno que se merece”..Hopefully one day, Venezuelan people will realize that they have been misguided, mistreated, misled and lied to…And Venezuela will be born again..But before that it has to die…its the only way for people to come back to reality.

  14. […] Miguel Octavio publicó este artículo en inglés para su blog The Devil’s excrement, donde fue muy leído, abarcando audiencias fuera de Iberoamérica.  Ahora lo tradujo al […]

  15. Yuzhou Lin Says:

    Amigo, I saw many good articles in your website, could you please pick some articles which introduce the bonds systems and foreign exchange system in VZ. i want to translate one or two article to Chinese and show them to Chinese people.

  16. […] Es que ni siquiera consultaron con las autoridades del IVIC, ni con los investigadores simpatizantes de la ideología del gobierno (por ejemplo, leer “Sr. Presidente Maduro: ¡Madrugan y destruyen al IVIC!“). La Asamblea de investigadores del IVIC ha rechazado dicha ley (leer, Por el IVIC, siempre). Igualmente, sugiero también leer una nota (en inglés) nostálgica y personal del Dr. Miguel Octavio sobre el IVIC la cual se puede leer aquí. […]

  17. […] El Primero, con aquella famosa espada que caminaba por la América Latina, diezmó a la ciencia venezolana quitándole recursos (sobre todo a las universidades nacionales autónomas que es en donde se hace la mayor cantidad de investigación científica en el país), forzando la emigración de científicos formados y de jóvenes científicos en formación (según el sociólogo Iván de la Vega hay más de 12 mil científicos y tecnólogos venezolanos trabajando en el exterior), hostigando y/o despidiendo a investigadores del IVIC, y vaporizando al INTEVEP ––uno de los pilares principales del sistema científico y tecnológico venezolano. Y, ahora, tenemos al Segundo, con un sable legal que la Asamblea Nacional le va a entregar y viene por la cabeza del IVIC. Ni siquiera consultaron con las autoridades del IVIC, ni con investigadores simpatizantes de la ideología del gobierno (por ejemplo, leer “Sr. Presidente Maduro: ¡Madrugan y destruyen al IVIC!“). La Asamblea de investigadores del IVIC ha rechazado dicha ley (leer, Por el IVIC, siempre). Una nota (en inglés) nostálgica y personal del Dr. Miguel Octavio sobre el IVIC se puede leer aquí. […]

  18. Tomas Kurdo Says:

    The new law where the name and nature of IVIC will switch itself is a product of the chavista mentality. It is not surprising.
    Like all Venezuela, IVIC recent history can be divided into several stages. The first is before black friday 1983 when the currency allowed us to invest some amount in science, technology, R & D. Actually not many resources devoted to this area, because in our culture, science and technology have never been among our priorities, to the point that IVIC was an oasis. This is an evil in all of Latin America where the average is 0.50% of GDP, while in developed countries exceeds 2% of GDP for R & D.
    After 1983 black Friday until the arrival of Chávez in February 1999 our country suffered successive devaluations that hit all budgets and programs, including the IVIC. A process of widespread, deep and rapid decline tucked the country. One must remember that in Caldera II exchange rate went from 110-570 Bs / U $ and banking crisis began with the closing of Banco Latino.
    All this set the stage for Chavez who in the past 14 years (summing Maduro) carried out the destruction of the social and business fabric, the politicization of institutions, the dismantling of PDVSA (including Intevep) and led to the diaspora the best human resources.
    What it happening with IVIC should not surprise us.

  19. moctavio Says:

    I think it is, the US has strong institutions, we dont have any by now.

  20. Coriolis Effect Says:

    Miguel, is this much different than the Republicans in the US, denying science and facts in order to promote their own medieval agenda? I feel bad for IVIC and how Chavismo is destroying it, but i feel worse for the US, which is on a steep, slippery slope to irrelevance in the scientific community.

    • Boludo Tejano Says:

      If you wish to believe so, then continue to believe it. But if you are interested in reading about an alternate point of view, you may consider the following:

      “There are a total of 20 physician members of the 112th Congress including three senators, 16 representatives and a delegate.” The breakdown: 2 Democrats and 18 Republicans. Doesn’t quite fit your narrative, does it?

      Currently, it appears that conservatives are more skeptical towards science.

      Politically conservative Americans have lost trust in science over the last 40 years while moderates and liberals have remained constant in the stock they put in the scientific community, a new study finds.
      The most educated conservatives have slipped the most, according to the research set to appear in the April issue of the journal American Sociological Review.

      Why would the MOST EDUCATED conservatives have slipped the most? Here is one possible reason.

      The proportion of scientific research that is retracted due to fraud has increased tenfold since 1975, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of how research papers go wrong.
      The study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that more than two-thirds of the biomedical and life sciences papers that have been retracted from the scientific record are due to misconduct by researchers, rather than error.

      I am not interested in a back and forth debate on this subject, as this is a blog on Venezuela, not on the US. However, since you brought up this subject, you might consider further informing yourself.

      Another further irony in your “Republicans are just as bad as Chavistas”
      narrative, a narrative which is not uncommon in English language blogs on Venezuela, is that in general, Republicans saw through Chavismo before Democrats. Who were the US politicos giving heartfelt eulogies to the deceased Hugo Chavez? Democrats, all of them. Citizen’s Oil Joe Kennedy- can’t get more Democrat than that. But Republicans are just as bad as Chavistas. Decime otro de vaqueros, pues.

      But if you wish to continue believing what you do, go right ahead. As the saying goes, it’s a free country. 🙂

      Disclaimer: STEM background with Master’s degree. Former Democrat, in large part by reading Carlos Rangel’s Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario, purchased in Venezuela.

      http://www.patientsactionnetwork.com/physicians-of-the-112th-congress/ Physicians in Congress

      http://www.livescience.com/19341-conservative-trust-science.html Conservatives lose trust in science


    • Ira Says:

      Republicans often deny science based on economic reasons–taking serious actions against global warming comes at enormous costs. And in fact, deep down, I don’t think they totally deny the science:

      But as politicians, with constituencies to serve and the economy in mind, fighting global warming isn’t exactly priority number one.

      On the flip side, it could certainly be argued that by the science, life begins at conception–and I say this as pro-choice. Or if not at conception, at the very least at one month. The science shows a heartbeat, doesn’t it?

      Yet Republicans oppose abortion, based on this science, and liberal Dems don’t. Us Dems still SUPPORT abortion, based on our own political and social agendas. So you can’t paint one party with a different brush than the other.

      But here is where the U.S. differs so vastly from VZ:

      Aside from what’s going on on Capitol Hill, we have hundreds and hundreds of institutions engaging in the real stuff, the real research. How you can claim that the voting actions of some Republucans negates this science is beyond me.

  21. Dean A Nash Says:

    Sad, sad, sad. But the locusts won’t stop until there is nothing left. Anyone who still doesn’t understand this probably deserves (at least in Darwinian terms) to be eaten.

  22. loroferoz Says:

    I almost accepted a postdoc at IVIC, and would gladly, had not there been a more permanent position at my Alma Mater. Venezuela became even more un-livable and the portcullis of exchange controls and simply not finding airline flights was coming down. Then I got out of there too (and of Venezuela) for Denmark at first opportunity.

    And I am left wondering… half cowardly maybe, did I get out of there in time, or should I have stayed on some more and done… what? How do you stop the generalized idiocy of a majority of your countrymen and women?

  23. Bruni Says:

    What a non-sense……these people have no idea what science is.

    How to destroy a country in 14 years…

  24. Seriously? Says:

    Thank you for this post. The issue has been covered in the media, but few Venezuelans know the implications of this hostile takeover, or how it fits into a general national context. The country is like a vehicle left on the side of highway — as time passes, all of the parts are stripped by passersby. Until there is practically nothing more to strip from the car. It’s very sad. Venezuela will suffer for at least a generation over this IVIC matter.

  25. Humberto Says:

    Best post ever. As you well know, I joined IVIC because of your support and that of others others. I really liked it there. In fact, as you also know, most of what I learned outside of physics, I learned at IVIC in a hand-on way and have been fortunate to build a succesful career from it.

    It saddens me it has come down to this. If only I could ask our Chavista friends still at IVIC what they think of this nonsense.

  26. Roy Says:

    Somehow, the image of uneducated brutes playing with high-energy lasers is now stuck in my mind… What could possibly go wrong?

  27. Autobot Says:

    When you mentioned the devaluation of 1983 (The infamous black friday), I couldn’t stop thinking that that was the date where the devaluation was made an official fiscal policy, leading to most of the fiscal troubles in Venezuela that lead the country straight to the claws of castrochavismo.

  28. Carolina Says:

    Miguel, I have been waiting for this post for the last few days. Thank you for it.
    Although my family has no direct ties with IVIC, I have several friends who lived there as their parents worked there, and in my mind the IVIC has been one of the true institutions in Venezuela.

    Very sad indeed.

  29. Alejo Says:


    I am a Venezuelan scientist working in the University of Copenhagen. Reading this account, and the news about the bill, has been a depressing experience. The people writing these laws have no idea about science!

    How can an scientific institute be charged with “protecting the uses and customs”, when innovation is precisely GOING AGAINST uses and customs? The VERY WORD “innovation” means “introducing the new”, not protecting the old!

    Where would science be if it had respected “worships, religions and cosmovisions”? mankind would be stuck in the middle ages if it wasn’t for people like Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein; they all went head on against religious ideas, worship and crappy “cosmovisions”!

    But this isn’t about the language. Never mind the bollocks. The whole point of this aggressive takeover is to create a number of cushy jobs for government bureaucrats, probably the children of highly placed generals who want to say they are scientists.

    And to kill two birds with one shot, they will remove a whole class of people (scientists) who are against the revolution.

    The destructive propensity of Venezuelan officials is so extreme it is hard to understand. Is it envy? resentment? they feel bad when meeting competent people, so they have to getting them out of sight? It is particularly low to use workers and students as pawns to introduce populism in an institution (some workers will no doubt be delighted to be the object of adulation by PhDs applying for jobs, Venezuela is that sad).

    I will tell you this: a nation who gladly queues for puree mixers for days will not stand up to protect their technological legacy. As with PDVSA, you can start saying your farewell to IVIC.

  30. Manuel Torres Says:

    Muy triste como todo lo que sucede en nuestro país…excelente que hayas estacado lo que fue esa institución para Venezuela.

    Enviado desde mi iPad

    El 27/11/2014, a las 22:57, “The Devil’s Excrement” <comment-reply@wordpress.com> escribió:

    moctavio posted: ” I wasn’t born at IVIC (Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientifícas, the Venezuelan Institute for Scientifc Research), but for a large fraction of my existence, I actually felt almost like I was. (Which was actually possible, since IVIC has hou”

  31. Casa 23 Says:

    I was born at IVIC, and spend my childhood there surrounded by science, interesting discussions and a striving and exiting community, this left on me an imprint for life. My parents made IVIC their home since their arrival to Venezuela, and worked their whole life in the Institute. Participated in its growth, development and transformation through the years.
    I can completely identify with your touching commentary.
    It is so sad to see the claws of resentment and destruction reach IVIC. We have been witness to the destruction, one by one, of everything that has been build with so much effort in the country. Everything that implies excellence, hard work, and expertise is destroyed by this so called revolution. IVIC is one more institution hit by the path of destruction this revolution is leaving. It is very sad to be a witness to this… Reconstruction of the country will be a monumental task once this regime falls!

  32. Halfempty Says:

    Well, and there you have it, the back story. I expect it was painful to write.

  33. A physicist in exile Says:

    I wasn’t quite born at Ivic, but my daughter was. I’m glad I’m not there to see its demise.

  34. Daniel Says:

    I went to read the CV of Ochoa. Indeed there seems to be no important peer review journal in his past, though admittedly he is writing something all the time, of a local interest, at best. But what do I know?

    However there is something I do know. The man seems go have required 8 years to get a French Doctorate. And it was not the “doctorat d’etat” still existing then that was in a way better than a PhD in that it involved getting first a “doctorat 3rd cycle” and then work as a faculty associate for years while doing the research for your doctorat d’état that came with a job and all but tenure upon completion. Doctorat d’état was only for those determined to stay in academia.

    My point is that from his very specific thesis title it must have been for sure a doctorat du 3 ieme cycle (a masters +, if you will, at the time but nothing like a PhD). But that is not all. He got it at the Mirail university of Toulouse which was then a loser university and a notable commie ghetto (I know that first hand, another long story). The only worthy campus at Le Mirail was the medical school. Not a great one but good enough if memory serves me well.

    Since I know that many venezuelans then in Toulouse gravitated around the French Communist party students of Le Mirail I am willing to bet that Ochoa has been a commie since then and that his 8 years stint were probably due to more than academic activities.

  35. Daniel Says:

    Nice réquiem.

    Now we need someone to write the réquiem for private universities.

  36. Paul Says:

    Your touching commentary on IVIC goes to the heart of what Chavismo is, morally bankrupt, ignorant, destructive and too many adjectives to list.I sense a great sadness in your comments which I’m sure many Venezuelans also feel towards the destruction that this ideology has caused. Eventually things will change but it will probably take decades for Vzla.to recover, if at all. That, to me, is the saddest of all.

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