The Palestinian students were greeted like celebrities upon arrival in Caracas. President Nicolas Maduro wore a kaffiyeh headdress and played up their symbolic importance during an address broadcast across the socialist South American country.
“Today, Palestine enters the heart of Venezuela,” Maduro declared in November when he greeted the first 119 recipients of a medical school scholarship, adding that the historic exchange with a key ideological ally had made him cry.
The program to train young Palestinians as doctors was to be the latest addition to an array of international solidarity programs the late President Hugo Chavez established, the best-known of which provides communist Cuba with cheap oil in exchange for the services of tens of thousands of health professionals.
But eight months later, about a third of the Palestinians have dropped out, complaining the program lacks academic rigor, according to interviews The Associated Press conducted with students, teachers and government officials. At least 29 already have gone home, while the other dropouts have stayed on living rent-free as they wait to receive plane tickets.