Student Riots Continue in Western Venezuela, Government Blames Provocateurs

Students in the western Venezuelan state of Tachira battled against police, leading to numerous injuries on both sides. Students say they are protesting against government interference in student elections, while government officials say the violence is orchestrated in conjunction with Thursday's OPEC meeting.

Caracas,Venezuela, May 30, 2006—Classes at the University of the Andes(ULA) were suspended again yesterday, as disturbances and protests continued inMerida for thefourth straight business day. Inresponse to the violence, various government representatives announced thatbehind the disturbances is a conspiracy to “destabilize” the country.

The“disturbances” come as a result of last Wednesday’s Venezuelan Supreme Court decisionpostponing ULA student elections, which were scheduled to be held on May 31st.In its decision, the court declared that theelections would have to be postponed because there existed “rational doubtsabout the competence” of the University Center Federation’s ability toadminister its own elections.

TheVenezuelan alternative media website,,reported yesterday afternoon that, “a small group of hooded individuals werethrowing rocks, bottles, and other objects at a line of anti-riot Police.”

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan daily, El Mundo, reported last Friday, that various other Universitieshave joined in the protests, and are calling for a national demonstration tomorrowand a student march across the country. Ricardo Sánchez, general secretary of the Federation of University Centers of theCentral University of Venezuela, announced yesterday that all of theUniversities in Caracaswould be meeting to coordinate actions in support of the ULA students.

Whilelast week’s events are still unclear, government sources report that 26Venezuelan National Guard and Police were wounded in the violence, many fromgunshots. One officer is still incritical condition, and another testified to have just narrowly escaped a rapeattempt. According to most reports, 10students were wounded. El Mundo reported last Friday that theleader of the Somos Uno Movement from the Central University ofVenezuela, Inti Rodriguez, declared that their were also a dozen studentswounded at University protests in both the Venezuelan states of Tachira andLara.

“Conspiracy of Violence”

VenezuelanVice-President José Vicente Rangel, yesterday, condemned the existence of“preparations to generate situations of violence in the streets.”

“Youcan’t explain this situation only by the decision of the competentjurisdictional organism to post-pone ULA elections. This decision has nothing to do with theNational Executive or the authorities from the state of Mérida,” he said. “The supposed University raid served also as apretext to accentuate the violence.” Ina press release, Rangel added, “there also exists the intention to unleashaction in Caracas during the next OPEC meeting [thisThursday], with the goal of projecting to the world an image of chaos in Venezuela.”

Yesterday, the Minister of Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón, andmembers of the National Assembly also denounced the student violence in Merida,and announced what they viewed as proof of a conspiracy to destabilize thecountry.

“These are acts of violence and sources of urban terrorism thathave been unraveling by the student sector over the last hours and you shouldobserve that all of the events connect to one another, they are interrelatedand lead us to a conspiracy plan,” said National Assembly Representative, TarekEl Aissami, yesterday.

Aissami singled out the group Movimiento 13 de Marzo (March 13Movement) and its student leader Nixon Moreno, as being behind the violence anddisturbances. He accompanied hisdeclarations with videotapes from 2004 of the March 13 Movement, which hedeclared contained “proof of the conviction” of the current events.

“Political Assassination”

Moreno, who was a Presidential candidate in theULA’s postponed elections responded by accusing the state of trying to“politically assassinate” him.

“Weare dealing with a dark laboratory, overseen by the Ministry of Interior andJustice (Jesse Chacón) in order to politically assassinate me,” he saidyesterday. Moreno added that due to the repression ofthe National Guard, 25 students were left wounded.

TheVenezuelan daily, El Universal,reported yesterday that Moreno, “informed that the students would continuetheir protests this week in response to the violation of the autonomousuniversity, expressed, in his criteria, in the ruling of the TSJ that suspendedthe student elections, and in the National Guard ‘raid’ on the University.”

Moreno, who has been a ULA student for the past10 years and is a former Student President of the ULA, blames last week’sviolence, not on the students, but on the Venezuelan National Guard.

According to VTV, the Minister of Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón, has categorically denied that theNational Guard and police forces raided the ULA.

Rumorshave surfaced over the possibility that last week’s violence could have beeninstigated by paramilitaries acting as students. The website,, reported last Thursday that “a group of organizedmercenaries, acting and looking more like Colombian paramilitaries thanstudents, burst in to the Center of the Humanities Faculty, well armed withhigh-caliber pistols and machine guns, faces covered with ski masks… with radiosof the latest technology… and dispersed throughout Merida in strategiclocations, in small groups, all armed, and interconnected through the radiosystem.”

AstridBalsa, an ULA student, studying languages, doesn’t buy it. “People exaggerate alot, but there are some things that are true. I don’t believe that there are paramilitaries,” she said, “but noteveryone involved in the disturbances are students. Some are hooligans, and some are teenagersfrom the nearby schools who just want to cause trouble.”

Balsasaid that classes and activities at the ULA have been suspended since lastWednesday, and that the disturbances have caused fear and long lines across thecity of Merida.

"Noone is in agreement with the disturbances," Balsa continued. "It’sall a question of power, regardless on who’s side you are on… the problem isthat the University is a reflection of what is happening in the country."

Supreme Court Decision

LastWednesday’s Supreme Court decision to postpone the elections was as a result ofan injunction presented to the court by hundreds of ULA students including thecurrent president of the Federation de UniversityCenters of ULA, Jehyson Jose Guzman Araque.

“Weasked the Supreme Court to review the elections, to make sure that everythingwas legal,” said Frella Alvarez, a fourth year ULA student studying Spanishliterature. “At the University, there are rules that exist, but they may or maynot be enforced… the Universityauthority hasn’t been prepared to ensure that the rules are followed.”

Accordingto Jan Ullrich, a German exchange student studying this year at ULA, theserules outlaw re-elections, include two-year term limits, and mandate thatcandidates must pass at least two classes a semester.

"Therules are there to ensure that these positions are for students, who arestudying… not for professional politicians," said Ullrich. "Guzmanhas been at the University for 10 years. One of the other guys, for 15."

According to Ullrich, thatthe elections were postponed until February, 2007, when new candidates wouldhave to be named, because none of the current candidates are eligible to runfor office, because they do not qualify under the rules.

Mario Bonucci, ULA Director,criticized the TSJ decision last week, declaring that the ULA electoralcommission has always been in charge of elections and that the current studentpresident, Guzman, was elected, ratified and established under the same rulesand structure that are now in place.

“Of course, I shall call for peace, prudence and reflection. The University is the center where we debatewith ideas not violence,” Bonucci added in response to last Wednesday’sviolence, “That’s why I’m making this call for calm, tranquility and that weutilize the channels at our disposition in this democratic system.”