Mérida, October 20th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government on Tuesday approved the funding of almost 2.5 billion bolivars (US$580 million) for University-level public education, responding to demands from workers and students that the government meet fiscal needs for the 2010-2011 academic period and cancel salary-related debts accrued since 2008.
Exiting the Council of Ministers meeting in which the resources were approved, Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua called for a return to normality at universities nationwide, following recent protests led by opposition university officials and student groups.
“We call on the entire university community to stay calm and establish mechanisms for normalized communication with the Ministry of Higher Education. The Bolivarian Government has guaranteed that the universities and all of their workers, professors and students can count on the services and salaries that they need to successfully complete this [academic] year,” stated Jaua.
The decision to release the funds came hours after Vice President Elías Jaua and Minister of Higher Education Edgardo Ramírez met with National Federation of University Employees President Eduardo Sánchez, to discuss the workers’ demands for payment of salary increases initiated in 2008.
During the meeting, Sánchez said a number of workers should be put onto government payrolls, employees who “find themselves in sub-contracted conditions, with precarious payment guarantees, in violation of their rights as public employees.”
According to Vice President Jaua, 450.9 million bolivars (US$105 million) were approved “to cover the costs of hospitalizations, surgeries and maternity-related issues of professors, administrative employees and other workers at universities, technological institutes and colleges,” and 729 million bolivars (US$170 million) were designated to pay debts to roughly 115,000 university employees.
Sánchez said, “The struggle of workers in the streets has had positive results.”
Figures published in the Venezuelan daily El Universal earlier this month affirmed that the original budget for higher education approved for the 2010-2011 period resembled 2007 figures, with total bolivar amounts that did not cover expenses tied to salary increases and inflation.
After a review of the original funds approved, university administrators declared a fiscal emergency. As a result, students, faculty and staff from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas called for nationwide protests on October 14th “in defense of a just budget for Venezuelan universities.”
Meanwhile, students from both the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) and the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces (UNEFA) rejected the calls to protest on grounds that they were politically motivated. “We [of the UBV] are more than 300,000 students across the country and our budget is not even a fifth of the budget they have [at the autonomous universities], and they are only 100,000 students,” stated UBV student Anderson Ibarra in reference to the UCV student protests.
Kevin Avila, president of the School of Social Work Center at UCV, accused UCV authorities of arbitrarily suspending academic activities and pressuring students to participate in the demonstration called for October 14th. “Far from seeking just solutions to the fiscal problems faced, this march has clear political intentions sought by the elite deans that currently run our universities,” stated Avila.
On Thursday, October 14th, the protests were held and an estimated 10,000 people marched from the UCV to the Ministry of Higher Education, insisting on a meeting with the minister to discuss an increase in budget allotments.
According to Diario La Verdad, as protestors arrived to the Ministry, authorities requested that a group of representatives be selected amongst students and faculty who could meet directly with Minister Ramírez, a request that was denied due to disagreements between demonstrators and authorities.
“We asked that the minister come down to meet us. He didn’t do it,” said UCV Dean Cecilia García Arocha. She went on to affirm that protestors waited over an hour for the minister to see them, before deciding to leave “with dignity.”
According to Vice President Jaua, President Chávez ordered him to make time in his schedule to participate in the post-march meeting that was expected in Minister Ramírez’s office. Jaua affirmed that he waited in Ramírez’s office until it became clear no meeting would be held, at which point he stating to the press, “We [the government] reiterate to all concerned parties from the universities of our country that we remain open to dialogue.”
In Venezuela, some public universities, such as the UCV, are funded by the government but administered autonomously, while others, including the UBV and the UNEFA, are funded and administered by the government.
After approving the new budget amounts, Vice-President Jaua said that while the newly approved funds come without any specific conditions, “universities should everyday be more transparent in the administration of their financial resources.”
He went on to state that university autonomy is guaranteed in the Constitution and that not once in the 11 years has the Bolivarian government permitted police or other authorities to violate this right. “We are defenders of university autonomy, but all state entities must provide fiscal records and the [public] universities are state entities,” Jaua affirmed.