Students March for and against Government in Caracas

Venezuelan students poured into the streets of Caracas in pro and anti-government marches on Thursday as President Nicolas Maduro announced a 54% increase in university salaries.

By Lucas Koerner

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Chavista university students march in defense of public education. (AVN)
Chavista university students march in defense of public education. (AVN)
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Caracas, May 27, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan students poured into the streets of Caracas in pro and anti-government marches on Thursday as President Nicolas Maduro announced a 54% increase in university salaries.

Chavista students from Venezuela’s new public universities created under the Bolivarian Revolution gathered in Plaza Venezuela in the heart of Caracas before marching to Miraflores presidential palace. 

“We have come to participate in this great march with over a thousand young people from Anzoategui [state] with the only goal of defending the gains of the Revolution in guaranteeing all Venezuelans access to free and quality education,” declared Jose Cabello, a communications student at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, who travelled over four hours with his classmates to attend the rally.

The students were received by President Maduro, who lauded the advances in public higher education over the last seventeen years and announced a series of measures aimed at safeguarding Venezuela’s public universities in the midst of a severe economic crisis. 

In addition to an immediate 54% increase in wages and pensions for university employees, Maduro unveiled a further 20% raise effective in September as well as a 100% rise in scholarships– now up to 8,000 bolivars a month – together with the launch of 10,000 new scholarships under the Ayacucho system. 

The head of state also approved the creation of a new scientific fund of 900 million bolivars aimed at financing 106 socio-productive projects in the nation’s universities, though no further details were offered.

Opposition students hailing from private and autonomous public universities also took to the streets on Thursday. 

Rallying outside of the Central University of Venezuela, they marched to Plaza Venezuela, where university authorities held meetings with the Vice-Minister of University Education, Andres Eloy Ruiz, over budgetary disputes.

Marching under the banners of Venezuela’s predominately rightwing-controlled student organizations, the students espoused a patchwork of heterogeneous demands, ranging from university autonomy and increased state funding to the ouster of the democratically-elected Maduro.

“We are fighting for our future, we don’t know what we’ll do after graduation, the insecurity, the scarcity, we are tired of it all,” explains Gabriel, a 21 year-old communications student at the private Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB). 

“We will keep taking to the streets until this government falls; every regime falls at some point, if the Nazis fell, so can this government,” he told Venezuelanalysis.

Other students lauded the recent dismissal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment trial, widely condemned as a coup internationally, as well as the election of President Mauricio Macri, a former businessman and ardent free market reformer in Argentina. They took the developments as a welcome sign that the continent could be moving away from the alignment with leftwing administrations which marked the 2000s. 

“Latin America is undergoing magnificent changes, principally with the democrat Macri, but also with the ouster of despotic governments, such as the support of the Brazilian Senate and Congress for the removal of Dilma Rousseff,” affirmed Alexander Moreno, 18, a law student at the UCAB. 

Thursday’s opposition march comes on the heels of a series of violent student protests in recent weeks and months that has seen the destruction of public property as well as the killingof two police officers in March. 

Last week, right-wing demonstrators attacked Bolivarian National Police officers and vandalized government-built student housing in downtown Caracas. 

Opposition students were key protagonists in 2014’s violent anti-government protests known as the guarimbas that resulted in the death of 43 people, the majority of whom state security personnel and passerby.

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