Mérida, October 2, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– On Thursday, the Venezuelan government launched an investigation into the murder of Julio Soto, the president of the student government at the University of Zulia, and asked that the crime not be used as a pretext for violent destabilization as the November regional and local elections approach. Meanwhile, violent opposition student groups in several universities protested the murder by blocking streets with burning tires and denouncing the government's policies on citizen security.
"There is total commitment to solve this case as quickly as possible," said the Minister of Education, Héctor Navarro on Thursday.
According to Navarro, President Chávez directly ordered government security forces to solve the case as soon as possible. The Minister of Justice and the Interior, Tarek El-Aissami, designated an investigation team from the national Criminal, Scientific, and Penal Investigations Body (CICPC) to take the case Wednesday.
CICPC Director Marcos Chávez said it would be premature to reach conclusions, but it is presumed that Soto was shot to death by hired assassins Wednesday afternoon while driving a truck. A passenger in the truck was shot in the leg and is being treated in a hospital.
Cilia Flores, the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN), said the AN "profoundly laments the death of this young man," and warned against partisan manipulation of the murder of Soto, who was an active member of the opposition party COPEI.
"Independently of political tendency, all Venezuelans should reject those who make a partisan scheme out of this," said Flores. "We are not going to fall into that game."
The Bolivarian Student Federation, which supports the "Bolivarian Revolution" led by President Chávez, echoed Flores's comments. "We want to ask the student movement of the opposition bloc to not politicize the death of Julio, to not wave it like a political flag for the coming elections," said Federation representative Juan Carlos Sierra.
The leader of the youth wing of COPEI, Juan Daniel Tapia, said the murder of Soto is indicative of Venezuela's rising homicide rate. "What we want is peace. We do not want one more Venezuelan to die. Enough with all the hate and injustice in Venezuela," said Tapia.
According to a recent edition of Foreign Policy magazine, the official homicide rate in Venezuela has risen by 67% over the past decade, and Caracas is the city with the highest homicide rate, at 160 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Last July, a notoriously violent opposition student group known as the March 13th Movement shot guns and threw Molotov cocktails at police officers and ransacked sections of the Andean city of Mérida, where the University of the Andes (ULA) is located, to protest insecurity. A student was killed and dozens of police officers were injured.
The violence was reminiscent of past destabilization campaigns by opposition students in the run-up to both university and national elections.
Thursday morning, students blocked a major avenue outside the ULA campus by burning tires and painted the message "No More Death" across the street.
Meanwhile, the Student Movement of the University Left, which sympathizes with the Chávez administration, passed out fliers around Mérida denouncing the murder of Soto, demanding a thorough investigation, and warning city residents of possible violence by right wing students who, "based on these lamentable events, [wish to] capitalize in an inhuman and irresponsible manner."
At the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, socialist student leaders denounced that a truckload of tires entered university grounds late Wednesday, which the students said could be for protests by "counter-revolutionary" groups. Photos of the trucks were circulated on talk shows broadcast by the state television station VTV.
"As revolutionary students, we want to repudiate the killing of any human being," said UCV student leader Andreína Tarazón. "It is important that Venezuelan society discuss the issue of violence… a society without violence will not exist as long as society is divided in classes and there are oppressed and exploited people," said Tarazón.