News: Opposition | Social Movements
Pro-Chavez Students Blame Opposition Students for Violence at University
Caracas, November 8, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Violent clashes erupted between pro-government and opposition student groups on Venezuela's Central University (UCV) campus Wednesday after a march of approximately 10,000 opposition students against proposed constitutional reforms returned to the campus.
Initial media reports surfaced that a student had been killed, however, the National Director of Civil Protection and Disaster Management, Antonio Rivero, who intervened in the conflict, confirmed that there were no casualties, but that one student had suffered a gunshot wound in the leg and eight others had minor injuries, including trauma and asphyxiation.
The Dean of the Faculty of Law at the UCV, Jorge Pabon, claimed on private TV channel Globovision that "a gang of armed individuals stormed in the campus and lambasted the students who were returning from a march to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ)."
Pabon referred to the group as pro-government. "They are violent groups that respect nothing; all that they want is to impose what they please in a given moment," he said.
Pabón said that some students were wounded, particularly a student from the School of Mass Media, whose "ear was broken."
However, UCV student Andreína Tarazón said that it was the pro-government students who were attacked by an armed group.
"We were sticking up posters in Social Work in support of ‘Yes', [ in support of the constitutional reforms] when they attacked us with tear gas bombs, they said we were going to lynch us, we made a barricade," she said.
Unedited footage from Avila TV showed a mob of predominantly male opposition students, some wearing balaclavas and tear gas masks, surrounding the School of Social Work, (where around 123 pro-Chavez students and administrative staff were hiding), throwing rocks, chairs and other objects, smashing windows and attempting to burn down the building.
Tarazon said that the university authorities witnessed the attacks by the opposition students, "but they did nothing."
Human Rights Lawyer, Eva Golinger also said the violence started when the opposition students surrounded and attacked the pro-government students in the School of Social Work.
After approximately one hour National Civil Protection officers intervened in the conflict and acted to secure the release of the 123 students and staff trapped inside the building. Images broadcast later on national television clearly showed the hostages running out of the building on the UCV campus once rescued by the Civil Protection officers.
Golinger said shots were fired into the air during the rescue operation, but the incident in which students were injured occurred prior to the intervention by the Civil Protection officers.
President of the UCV workers' union, Eduardo Sanchez, said that "supposed reporters" from private media channel Univision, were also carrying guns and accompanied the group that attacked the School of Social work.
While it remains unclear exactly how the violence started an unidentified group of armed men, wearing balaclavas also allegedly entered the campus and set alight to a bus and fired at students.
The opposition media has blamed the attacks on armed government supporters; however in April 2002 the same private opposition media in Venezuela circulated false claims that government supporters had opened fire on unarmed opposition protests in order to justify a military coup. It was later revealed that the shots were fired by snipers placed in surrounding buildings and formed part of a plan to generate a political crisis and facilitate the coup.
In politically polarized Venezuela, the elite private and public universities have become a bastion of right wing opposition to the left wing government. Extremist groups and armed gangs operate openly inside the universities. Last week a student was shot at the University of Zulia in a conflict between two armed gangs. Although the opposition initially tried to blame it on the government; it was later revealed that the incident was unrelated to the political situation in the country.
Clashes between pro and anti-government student groups have also occurred on other university campuses around the country in the past few days.
The reforms include a proposal which would democratize Venezuela's universities, making one student vote equal to that of one academic staff vote. Currently, the vote of one academic staff member in the UCV is worth 10 student votes, although this differs around the country, such as in the University of Carabobo, where one staff vote is worth 30 student votes. However, university authorities are vehemently opposed to the reforms, claiming among other things, that they violate university autonomy.
Minister of Justice, Pedro Carreño, made a nationally televised call for calm and for opposition students and the private media to "return to the fold of democracy" and warned all Venezuelans to be on alert against provocations over the next few days.
The opposition march to the TSJ, demanding the referendum on the reforms be postponed until February 3 2008, was relatively peaceful. However, Vice- Minister of Justice, Tarek El Aissami, said one student was arrested carrying explosives.
Progressive students have rejected the violence at UCV and called on the opposition students to participate in a peaceful debate on the reforms at O'Leary square in Caracas today.
Ender Pernía, an Economics student at UCV said that the students who are opposed to the reform "are throwing away a historical process trying to destroy the dreams coming from the struggles of all student sectors".
Published on Nov 9th 2007 at 2.39pm
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