Massive Student Demonstration In Support Of Constitutional Reforms

In a massive demonstration that dwarfed violent opposition student protests two weeks ago against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms, more than 50,000 students marched in favor of the reforms in Caracas on Thursday.
Chavez addresses a student demonstration in front of the Miraflores presidential palace. (Prensa Presidencial)

Caracas, November 22, 2007
( – In a massive demonstration that dwarfed violent
opposition student protests two weeks ago against Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms, more than 50,000 students marched in
favor of the reforms in Caracas
on Thursday. The rally on the ‘Day of the Students,' also commemorated 50 years
since the student uprising on October 21 1957 that culminated in the downfall
of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez on 23 of January 1958.

Students gathered in Plaza Venezuela
at 10 am where Cesar Trompiz, a student leader from the Bolivarian
University of Venezuela,
announced that the aim of the march was to say, "Yes to the reforms, yes to the
revolution and yes to President Chavez."

The march was festive and peaceful as it wound its way
through the streets of Caracas.
Students danced and sang "Yes, Yes, Yes to the reforms!" and "Yes, Yes, Yes –
the hour of the people, the hour of the poor!' Supporters also waved flags and
posters from high-rise apartment blocks, and workers on a construction site in
La Candelaria downed tools and cheered and danced salsa on the scaffolding as
the students went by. An incident where an opposition supporter hung a ‘No'
sign out the window of an office building was met with laughter and chants of
‘They will not return' in a reference to the old political parties that governed
prior to Chavez.

Three thousand students also joined the march from the School of Social Work in the Central University of
Venezuela (UCV), where on November 7, opposition students had trapped 123
Chavista students for several hours, threatening to lynch them, throwing rocks
and chairs, smashing windows and attempting to set fire to the building.

Thousands of high school students also marched in support of
a reform that would lower the voting age to 16, which Trompiz explained was a
proposal introduced by the student movement, "and another reason to celebrate."

The march finally arrived at Miraflores at 5pm where
students flooded the grounds of the presidential palace and waited to hear from
President Chavez, just returned from a six-day tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Referring to the student uprising in 1957 Chavez said, "In
the 50s the students rose up against the president, but today they are in
Miraflores with the president because this government belongs to you all, this
power belongs not to Chavez, but to the people, the students…"

"Here is the demonstration that the Venezuelan students are
with the revolution… here a solid revolutionary student movement has been born.
This is essential, you students are the fuel of the revolution," Chavez added.

Some people go around saying Chavez wants more power with
the reform, he said, "but what I want is to give more power to the republic, a
new equation of power, of popular power, strengthening political parties and
social movements."

The reforms are for the future, and are necessary to deepen
the transition to socialism, Chavez explained. "One-day I will have to leave
the presidential palace," he said to cries of protest, however he assured, he
was confident that there were many capable people that could take over from

Paraphrasing a popular anti-imperialist chant at student
demonstrations across Latin America -‘those who don't jump are Yankees'- he
concluded his speech saying "those who don't jump are escualidos" (a
term coined by Chavez when he referred to the opposition as being "philosophically
and morally squalid"), as Urdaneta Avenue was filled with tens of thousands of
jumping students.

The reforms will enshrine the right to free university
education in the constitution and proposed changes to article 109 will also
give students and workers voting parity with academic staff for elections of
university authorities. Hector Sosa, a student from the Bolivarian
University of Venezuela told that these had been "the dreams of Venezuelan students for

Sosa also said that the reforms are necessary to strengthen
popular power through the creation of worker, student, campesino, and communal councils.

For Adriana Castillo, a student from the National
Experimental University of the Armed Forces, the march signified the rebirth of
the Venezuelan student movement, which she explained to,
had historically been very radical and left wing, but throughout the 1990's had
shifted to the right as universities restricted access and became more elite.

Emilio Negrín,president of the Bolivarian Union of
Students argued that in reality more than 90% of students support the
constitutional reform but the opposition refuses to recognize the 700,000
students in the education missions, and the municipal Bolivarian universities
created since 2003.

A far smaller demonstration of opposition students also took place in
Plaza Brión in the middle class suburb of Chacao, where newly elected president
of the UCV student union, Ricardo Sánchez argued that the reforms which will
allow Chavez to stand for reelction will lead to "Cuban-style dictatorship." He
also called for opposition students to march to Miraflores next Monday.