Raimundo Chela Aboudib

Quick Info

17 November 1919
Carúpano, Sucre state, Venezuela
3 July 1984
Caracas, Venezuela

Raimundo Chela was a Venezuelan mathematician who made a substantial contribution to improving the teaching of mathematics in Venezuela at all school and university levels.


Raimundo Chela was the son of Julián Chela and Emilia Aboudib. Julian and Emilia were born and brought up in Mount Lebanon, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire. Julián Chela is in fact the Spanish version of his Lebanese name Khalil Chahla, which he adopted in Venezuela. Both Julián and Emilia were from Christian families and many such families left Lebanon and emigrated to South America beginning around 1862 following a period of religious tension. When Julián and Emilia emigrated in the first decade of the 20th century it was not because of religious tension, which was a thing of the past in the area they lived in, but rather it was to seek a better life. Raimundo, however, said his parents often told him about their days in Lebanon, speaking of the towns of Zagharta and Aioun, famed for its cedars and situated in a beautiful area.

The Chela family arrived in Venezuela at a time of transition when the government of José Cipriano Castro Ruiz was replaced by Juan Vicente Gómez Chacón who seized power in 1908. There was conflict in Venezuela for many years after that, but Carúpano, in Sucre state, where Julián Chela lived was a peaceful place without social or political disturbances. Julián and Emilia Chela had eight children, seven girls and one son, Raimundo, the subject of this biography. Raimundo studied at an elementary school in Carúpano, then went to Caracas where he attended Secondary School. His parents moved to Caracas at this time. After graduating from High School, he entered the Faculty of Engineering of the Central University of Venezuela. This university in Caracas was founded in 1721 making it the oldest university in Venezuela and one of the oldest in the Americas. At this university he was a student of Francisco José Duarte, who was professor of geometry, algebra, analysis and mechanics in the Faculty of Engineering of the Central University of Venezuela from 1936 to 1939. Chela had great admiration for Duarte all his life and we quote later in this biography an extract from a speech he gave on the occasion of awarding Duarte and Honorary Doctorate on 28 May 1965.

In 1939 Chela married Mercedes Flores, the daughter of the journalist Manuel Flores Cabrera who had been the leader of the struggle against the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez. Raimundo and Mercedes had six children, including Godsuno Chela Flores, born in 1940, and Julián Chela-Flores, born in 1942. We shall say a little about these two children below.

After two years at the Central University of Venezuela, Chela entered the National Pedagogical Institute [12]:-
The Pedagogical Institute of Caracas began its work as a teacher training establishment on 30 September 1936. It has seen, therefore, over 80 years of uninterrupted work. Its creation responded to the need to promote secondary education in the country, which until then had been neglected. As Don Mariano Picón Salas said: "the idea was not only to train high school teachers, but to create a centre for the development and cultivation of the humanities and science." The year 1936 marked a milestone in the country's historical process. It was a time of transition due to the physical disappearance of the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, who had stayed in power for 27 uninterrupted years. It was a time for great changes ...
Chela graduated with the qualification Teacher of Mathematics in 1942. After graduating he began teaching mathematics at different educational institutions. He taught at the Normal School for Women which had been founded in 1893 to train graduates to serve as teachers, both in primary schools and in secondary schools. He also taught at the Industrial Technical School which had been founded in 1937 based on the School of Arts and Crafts of Caracas. Chela also taught in two High Schools, the Liceo Aplicación and the Liceo Fermín Toro and at the National Pedagogical Institute where he had been trained. In 1949 he began teaching at the Faculty of Engineering of the Central University of Venezuela.

During this period he published various works, for example Mathematics and Logic (1944), Trigonometric Applications of Ptolemy's Theorem (1945) and Number Systems (1945) appeared in the Journal of the National Pedagogical Institute. He also published his Algebra Course as an 800-page work in 1957.

Walter Beyer writes [2]:-
Chela's academic work encompassed other facets: participation in the reforms to secondary education programs; dictation of conferences, short courses and workshops for the improvement of teachers; writing notes for Mathematics courses; directing degree studies; works such as his 'Algebra Course' (1957); publication in various journals of his thoughts on the Didactics of Mathematics. Also in various interviews he explained his ideas about the teaching/learning of Mathematics.
Chela was one of 33 teachers who founded the College of Teachers of Venezuela on 22 June 1943. Another of the 33 was José Manuel Siso Martínez who was Minister of Education in the Venezuelan government. The political situation changed when in 1948 there was a coup and the country was run by a Government Junta which suppressed political parties. In 1952 the military took over with Marcos Pérez Jiménez as dictator. José Manuel Siso Martínez, the former Minister of Education, was exiled to Mexico [13]:-
When Marcos Pérez Jiménez became dictator, the dreams of Venezuelan education dissipated and vanished. However, despite the repression, the College of Teachers of Venezuela continued to promote its academic doctrine through documents and even created a subsidy fund to help exiled teachers, whose purpose was to defend the teaching career and also the institution, highlighting the solidarity of Venezuelan society.
In the midst of these events, Chela was elected as President of the College of Teachers of Venezuela and had to deal with the consequences of repression. He served as President in 1952-53. The dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez ended in 1958 when, in January of that year, there was a general uprising and the dictator was overthrown on 23 January. Democracy was restored with the establishment of the Fourth Republic of Venezuela. The year 1958 also marks the creation of the Faculty of Sciences. Enrique Planchart writes [9]:-
Chela had been one of the actors in the creation of the College and having deep social convictions, he had dreamed of a College integrated into national life. The first time I heard him speak was as Orator of Order in the Act of Creation of the Faculty of Sciences of the Central University of Venezuela, in the year 1958. It was an Academic Act of great solemnity, presided over by the Rector Francisco de Venanzi. Without a doubt, this act marks a milestone in the history of Mathematics in Venezuela, it was the first Faculty of Sciences in the country and soon the first Mathematics graduates in Venezuela would graduate.
Rafael Pizani (1909-1997) was heading a Commission to reform universities when the 1948 coup took place and he was expelled in 1951. He returned in 1958 when democracy was restored and was appointed as Minister of Education. He offered Chela the position of Director of the National Pedagogical Institute but he turned down the offer because he had already decided that he wanted to undertake research for a Ph.D. He replied to Pizani [4]:-
I am a mathematician, what I want is to study.
With a scholarship from the Council for Scientific and Humanistic Development of the Central University of Venezuela, Chela went to England to undertake research at the University of London for a Ph.D. In London he studied at King's College where his thesis studies were supervised by Albrecht Fröhlich. He was awarded the degree in 1961 for his thesis Galois Groups of Polynomials and results from the thesis were published in 1963 in the Journal of the London Mathematical Society in the paper Reducible polynomials. Chela writes in that paper:-
This paper is part of a Ph.D. thesis submitted this year to the University of London. I wish to thank my supervisor Dr A Fröhlich for his guidance and encouragement, the Universidad Central of Venezuela for the grant and the Department of Mathematics of the King's College for the facilities which enabled me to pursue my course of study.
Both Godsuno Chela Flores and Julián Chela-Flores went to London with their father and studied at the University of London. Julián Chela-Flores was awarded a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics from the University of London in 1969. He became a leading astrobiologist and physicist. Godsuno Chela Flores was awarded a B.A. by the University of London in 1965, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Phonetics, also from London, in 1967. He studied Linguistic History of English at the University of Oxford, and completed a Master's Degree in Applied Linguistics at the University of Essex in 1972. He became a professor of linguistics at the Universidad del Zulia in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

On the last days of 1961 Chela left England and returned to Venezuela. By January 1962 he was back in Caracas where he was met by the Head of Mathematics at the Central University of Venezuela. On 16 February, he wrote to his son Julián saying [5]:-
I have been received with signs of affection by everyone here. They have invited me many times to eat, former students, friends, professors, deans, etc. Tomorrow, for example, I am going to have lunch at the house of Isabel my sister and at night with the teachers of the Pedagogical Institute.
In a speech of the 1st Venezuelan Congress of Mathematics in Mérida in 1977, Chela spoke about his return to Central University of Venezuela in 1962 (see [9]):-
Upon my return to Venezuela in January 1962 I was appointed Head of the Department of Mathematics and I found that the organisation of the studies of the Mathematics Degree corresponded to those of a Graduate School, but without the previous base that graduate students have in developed countries such as England, the United States, France, etc. It was evident that under these conditions the number of graduates that the School would produce each year would be very small; but it was argued we should sustain this state of affairs, since the graduate's field of work would be university teaching, in the same Faculty of Sciences or in other Faculties. However, this is not how developed countries proceed, where some of the mathematics graduates are integrated into the plans, at a certain level, of industrial development, secondary school teaching, scientific journalism, etc., and only a minority go on to the doctorate with aspirations to pure scientific research and university teaching ... [This is of] such importance not only to raise the scientific level of the people, without which scientific activity eventually becomes impoverished and may even die, but also to gather understanding and support from vast sectors of the population.
In April 1962 Chela was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences of Venezuela.

Enrique Planchart was a student in the Department of Mathematics and described in [9] how Chela interacted with his students soon after taking over as Head of Mathematics in 1962:-
... in the cafeteria of the Faculty of Humanities, behind Engineering, Raimundo Chela shared a table with several students from the School of Mathematics: José Masón, Federico Martin and myself. We drank coffee, sometimes several, and we talked. Chela recounted the emotion that the end of 'The Song of the Earth' produced in him, how the music slowly faded away and the mezzo-soprano sang softer and softer Ewig, Ewig, Ewig, ... I noticed how the hairs on his arm bristled as he spoke. I heard 'The Song of the Earth' for the first time some eight years later and I vividly remembered that conversation with Chela; at that moment, I shared his feeling. Whenever I listen to it, the memory of Professor Chela comes back to me.
After jokes, comments about music or poetry and discussing politics (always politics for hours), the conversation would move to Mathematics: Number Theory or Galois Theory, most of the time. Also, frequently, stories and anecdotes about famous mathematicians. Chela's mathematical culture was very extensive and he could talk about many topics not related to Algebra. ...
These conversations in the cafeteria played a very important role in the formation of many of us. They were motivating, many times we would leave the cafeteria to study something new or to review topics that we thought we had understood. They were also conversations of great spiritual and cultural depth. Apart from two or three jokes, which were never lacking, Chela was a very serious, upright man, with strong convictions and not at all willing to negotiate, much less to betray his principles. This character led, in the following years, to a notable change in his attitude, to a certain degree of visible bitterness and a distance from many of his students and fellow professors at the Faculty of Sciences.
Chela was elected to serve a second term as President of the College of Teachers of Venezuela in 1963-65.

On 28 May 1965, Chela was asked to deliver the address at the ceremony where Francisco José Duarte was being awarded an honorary doctorate by the Central University of Venezuela. Chela could speak from much personal experience since he had been taught by Duarte and had also been a colleague for many years. In his emotional tribute, Chela recalled that Duarte graduated in Europe [4]:-
... he filled with his vast knowledge, with his works and with the zeal in caring for, increasing and defending, mathematical science in Venezuela, the void left in the University with the absence of a Department of Pure Mathematics ... But in this task he was practically alone for many years. I imagine him captain of a ship with a very small crew, moving to all the places where his presence and scientific generosity were needed.
Chela was invited as a keynote speaker at the First Venezuelan Congress of Mathematics which took place in Mérida on 17-20 March 1977. He discussed the teaching of school and university mathematics, the shortage of mathematics teachers, the development of mathematics departments in universities, and postgraduate studies and mathematical research. In 1979 the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research awarded him the National Prize for Science, which he accepted with his usual humility. This led to him being interviewed by Arístides Bastidas who asked him why teaching mathematics was a failure. He replied [1]:-
From the first grades we badly condition the students in front of us. This occurs because small errors in learning mathematics are penalised in a severe way as it is not done with other subjects.
Asked whether someone is born with a vocation for mathematics, he replied [1]:-
I do not believe that is the case. Gauss, who together with Archimedes and Newton is part of the great universal trilogy of mathematicians, was about to dedicate himself to philology.
Bastidas explained that Chela considers that the development of mathematics should be done in accordance with the service that it has to provide in the course of industrial processes and in the effort by Venezuela against underdevelopment. In fact, he believed that no country could plan its goals without taking advantage in a major way of what is offered by mathematics. Bastidas then asked Chela if the Faculty of Sciences shared these views of his. He gave what looks a bit like a politician's answer when he replied [1]:-
It is that we can no longer think that this field can be promoted in isolation from the world surrounding the University. We must establish an active connection between the mathematics that we teach and the centres that are going to use it.
In [1], published in 1979, Bastidas paid this tribute to Chela:-
This country owes a debt to Professor Chela that it will never be able to repay, not only because of his forty-two uninterrupted years of teaching or because of the depth of his knowledge displayed with the most genuine modesty, but also because of the international credit of his professional research, one of which won the honour of being reproduced in the London Journal of Mathematics, where he did a brilliant postgraduate degree, by the way.
He had many interests and talents in addition to mathematics and his son Godsono writes [4]:-
He had a special talent for music and played the piano with singular sensitivity, wrote poetry and participated in the literary and musical groups of little Caracas at the time. He saw no discord between everything he did and felt, and above all he delighted in being a mathematician ...
Following Chela's death, which was the result of an accident, Albrecht Fröhlich wrote to Julián Chela-Flores [5]:-
I remember your father very well and I thoroughly enjoyed having him work under me, and seeing his delight in learning and doing Mathematics.
Walter Beyer writes [2]:-
Chela left behind an indelible mark on those who had the pleasure of knowing him and sharing his wisdom, his deep knowledge and his gift with people. On 9 May 1985, at the National Pedagogical Institute, a heartfelt tribute was held to this distinguished Venezuelan, which was attended by relatives, former students, friends and colleagues who recalled and highlighted various aspects of the work and life of Raimundo Chela.
Let us end with two quotes by Chela. First a message that he sent to members of the College of Teachers of Venezuela when he was its president [11]:-
I wish to all Venezuelan educators primarily the following two objectives:

i) that daily work is always aimed at achieving an ever-increasing understanding and mastery of the topics that they have to teach;

ii) maintain union unity to obtain better working conditions that allow them to deploy an intense and creative teaching effort.
Our second quote is in a letter he sent to his son Julián on 19 March 1962 [5]:-
Do not despair if you cannot solve certain problems. The greatest difficulty consists in not forgetting the problem, without despairing. Those two qualities constitute the most powerful weapon. In the culture of mathematics there is a true spirit that will never die because it has the wonderful quality of renewing itself, of changing its fundamental conceptions, whenever the reality of things requires it.

References (show)

  1. A Bastidas, Sumérjase en el Mundo y Conocerá el Infinito de las Matemáticas, El Nacional (23 September 1979).
  2. W Beyer, Raymond Chela Aboudib (1919-1984), Conciencia Matemática 2 (2014), 6-7.
  3. M Caballero, Chela, Raimundo, Diccionario de Historia de Venezuela.
  4. G Chela-Flores, Raimundo Chela y la Educación Matemática en Venezuela: Docencia e Investigación, Plenary Lecture COVEM and EDUMATZ (11 October 2000).
  5. J Chela-Flores, Raimundo Chela: Recuerdos, Universidad Simón Bolívar (April 1985).
  6. A R Garciadiego, Review: Matemática y lógica, by Raimundo Chela, Mathematical Reviews MR0898873 (88k:03002).
  7. I Gramcko, Los amigos de entonces, El Nacional (25 July 1984).
  8. Julián Chela-Flores, The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics.
  9. E A Planchart, Raimundo Chela, Boletín de la Asociación Matemática Venezolana 7 (1-2) (2000), 53-57.
  10. Raimundo Chela, Ecu Red (2014).
  11. Raimundo Chela Aboudib (1919-1984), Matematicos Venezolanos (19 February 2015).
  12. E L Reyes, El Instituto Pedagógico de Caracas y los Estudios Históricos en Venezuela, Tiempo y Espacio 26 (66) (2016), 14-21.
  13. The Fenaprodo Colegio de Profesores de Venezuela.

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Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update February 2023