Mérida, June 18th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Youth
and students marched on Tuesday morning from the Bolivarian University of
Venezuela (UBV) to the National Assembly, in order to demand more democratic decision
making in the nation's universities and a transformation of the university
system to make it more equitable.
The march followed a month of protests by
pro-government students and anti-government students regarding university
funding and structure.
The UBV is part of the government's social program
called the Mission Sucre, which aims to provide free higher education to all
those who were previously excluded from it or who need it. The marching
students said they want a more equal distribution of university funding between
the government universities and autonomous universities like the UCV, which are
government-funded but make all their decisions independently of the government.
The students also called for democratic participation
in university administration, fairer admission mechanisms, and a nation-wide
discussion about the role of education generally, in the country.
Vicente Moronta, a history student at the UCV said
that constructing socialism involves new social relations, so students in
Venezuela need a "new paradigm of education". He said the marching students
want to create a university that "orchestrates a new social order".
Moronta said it is necessary to revise the concept of
autonomous universities. "The current university law was made in 1970 with the
military incursion that closed down academic life for over three years and that
generated a structure that caused the currently reality of the privatized
university that excludes the popular sectors," Moronta said.
One banner in the march said, "What are the bourgeoisie
complaining about? UCV budget 949,819,000 bolivars [$US 442 million], population
58,000. UBV budget 193,342,000 bolivars [$US 90 million] population 260,305".
The banner was referring to a protest on May 20th by opposition
students, leaders, and UCV rector Cecilia Garcia, who marched to protest the
government's 6% budget cut to higher education. The higher education ministry
invited the students to have a debate about education and education spending.
Minutes into the debate Garcia called it an "ambush" and walked out.
"It's not right that a student of the UCV costs the
country 14,000 bolivars [$US 6,500] per year while one from UBV costs 2,000
bolivars [$US 930]," Moranto said.
Student Natascha Garcia told the rally, "We want there
to be more equality in the distribution of the university budget because
Mission Sucre… has a smaller budget than the UCV." Law student Oliver Rivas
said students want more democracy within the universities.
On Saturday, the student group Movement for University
Transformation March 28th along with pro-government students had
organized a meeting to call Tuesday's march. Moronta denounced the UCV
authorities for cutting electricity to the auditorium where the students were
Previously, on June 8th fourteen
pro-government UCV students began a hunger strike to protest a 16% reduction in
the university's cafeteria budget that had been decided by the autonomous
university administration. When the national budget cuts were announced,
Education Minister Luis Acuna had sent a statement to university administrators
saying that salaries and student services such as the cafeteria, housing and
transportation should not be cut. Four thousand students at UCV depend on the
cafeteria for free meals.
The hunger strike was
violently dispersed with tear gas and gun shots by "unknown people", according
to press reports. However, two of the students involved in the hunger strike, president
of the social work student center Kevin Avila, and president of law student
center Jose Casanova, are currently being publicly threatened by some
university administrators with expulsion proceedings for alleged violence
during the hunger strike. The university council, which is majority opposition,
would have to vote on starting the proceedings.