Opposition Students Clash with Police in Effort to Get to Venezuela’s Electoral Council

Violent clashes took place
yesterday between opposition students and the police when students tried to
break police lines near Venezuela's
National Electoral Council building. Students marched on the Electoral Council to call for the constitutional reform referendum to be postponed.

By Kiraz Janicke – Venezuelanalysis.com

ABN-01-11-2007-violenciaopositora_09.jpg

Opposition protestors throw rocks and bottles at Caracas police force (ABN)
Opposition protestors throw rocks and bottles at Caracas police force (ABN)

ABN-01-11-2007-violenciaopositora_03.jpg

Trees set on fire by opposition students
Trees set on fire by opposition students

ABN-01-11-2007-ucvviolenciaoposicon.jpg

Opposition students at the Central University (UCV)
Opposition students at the Central University (UCV)
Short URL

Caracas, November 2, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Violent clashes took place
yesterday between opposition students and the police when students tried to
break police lines near Venezuela's
National Electoral Council building. Students and members of opposition
political parties had marched on the National Electoral Council (CNE) in Caracas to deliver a document
calling for the referendum on President Hugo Chavez's constitutional reforms,
scheduled for December 2, to be postponed.

As the
march passed through the relatively poorer area of Parque Central, the protest was
met with spontaneous cries from Chavez supporters of "Chavez is not going" and
"They will not return" [a reference to the political leaders of the pre-Chavez
era]. Several thousand pro-Chavez students and supporters from the poorer
neighbourhoods in Caracas
also gathered at the CNE in a counter protest in support of the reforms.

Chanting
"No to the reforms," the opposition students carried banners and placards
openly calling for violence, as well as pictures of various CNE rectors,
describing them as "traitors to the country."

When the
opposition protest arrived at approximately 2pm, the CNE directors received a delegation
from the students, giving them drinks and cake as they handed over their
document. However, on leaving the student delegation attempted to chain
themselves to stair well in the entrance of the building before being removed
by the National Guard.

The protest
then turned violent as the opposition students attempted to break through the
police security cordon to get into the CNE, throwing rocks and bottles and
setting fire to trash cans, trees and street poles. The police and National
Guard then responded with teargas, water canon, and plastic shrapnel to
disperse the crowd.

The President
of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, rejected the acts of violence on the part of the
protestors in a press conference saying, "The attempt to assault the CNE is
unacceptable and constitutes a grave act that violates Venezuelan laws."

Lucena also
criticised sections of the media which she said were "exacerbating tensions and
misinforming about what really happened."

She
clarified that the CNE would not accept political pressure of any nature that
aims to disrupt the process of holding the constitutional reform referendum.

"The CNE
ratifies that it will comply faithfully with the constitutional obligation that
it has to guarantee the exercise of the right to vote of all the Venezuelan
people", she concluded.

CNE
director German Yepez explained that the CNE has no power to postpone the
referendum because according to the constitution, it must conduct a referendum
within 30 days of the reform proposal's passage by the National Assembly. Since
the Assembly passed the proposal today, it must conduct the vote by December 2nd,
which it has said will be the date for the vote. Yepez urged the students to
direct their complaint to the Supreme Court, if they feel that their rights are
being violated.

Images on the
oppositional news channel Globovisión also showed some opposition students
breaking the windows of a police vehicle and pouring gasoline inside it and
attempting to set it on fire before being stopped by other students.

Skirmishes and
further clashes with the police continued in the center of Caracas for over an hour as groups of
opposition students rampaged down Avenidar Bolivar, destroying benches, burning
trees, and ripping out metal railings.

Several
students and six police officers were injured in the clashes and one student, Freddy
Nazareth Gómez Castillo, 22, was arrested carrying 20 liters of gasoline.

Clashes
also occurred for several hours afterwards between opposition and pro-Chavez
students at the UCV, as opposition students blockaded the entrance to prevent
pro-Chavez students from entering the university. Similar incidents also took
place on a number of other campuses around the country.

In a
statement on VTV Minister of Justice, Pedro Carreño said the opposition should
learn not to use violence. "If a group of Venezuelans doesn't agree with the
reforms, they should express themselves in a democratic manner, for example,
through the constitutional referendum," said Carreño.

Vice-Minister
for Citizen Security, Tarek El Aissami, classified the opposition protestors as
"fascists," and described their actions as a "media stunt."

Despite the
protests, the reforms look set to be approved in the referendum on December 2
as a poll by the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) shows that
support for the reforms is at 50.6%, whereas opposition to the reforms is only
36.0%, with the remainder undecided. Additionally, some opposition groups have
also called for a boycott of the referendum, which will further reduce the ‘No'
vote.

Opposition
groups have also called for the reforms to be stopped "by all means possible,"
and President Chavez has warned of the possibility of another coup attempt by
the opposition.

President
of the Bolivarian Federation of Students, Carlos Sierra argued today the acts by
opposition students were part of a series of coordinated activities by the
opposition with the objective of destabilizing the country in the lead up to
the referendum.

The
opposition is particularly opposed to a change which would allow Chavez to
stand for re-election in 2013, claiming he wants to be president for life. Additional
changes they oppose include a proposal to recognise different forms of property
such as social and communal property alongside private property, which they say
is an attack on private property, and other aspects which they say threaten civil
liberties.

However, Chavez denies that he wants to be
president for life or that the reforms threaten civil liberties. He says, the
reforms, which, if adopted, will institutionalise new forms of popular power
and social property, as well as lowering the working day to 6 hours and are
necessary to ensure Venezuela's
transition towards socialism.

For a video of some of the clashes, click here.