Tens of Thousands of Venezuelan Students March for New University Law

Tens of thousands of Venezuelan students marched through Caracas on Sunday to celebrate the Day of the University Student and to pressure the National Assembly to pass a new law for university-level education.

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UNEFA students hold up a fellow student in a wheelchair during Sunday's march (Prensa Presidencial)
UNEFA students hold up a fellow student in a wheelchair during Sunday's march (Prensa Presidencial)
By Juan Reardon – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Mérida, November 23rd 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Tens of thousands of Venezuelan students marched through Caracas on Sunday to celebrate the Day of the University Student and to pressure the National Assembly to pass a new law for university-level education.

Students marched from the main campus of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) to Miraflores Palace and were joined by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Minister of Higher Education Edgardo Ramirez, as well as other cabinet members. In his speech to the crowd, Chávez called on students to look beyond any differences and form a “united, national student movement” to defend the Bolivarian Revolution.

Marchers came from a number of public universities established before and during the Chávez government. Banners identified marchers from the UBV, the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces (UNEFA), the National Experimental University Simón Rodríguez (UNESR), the Ribas and Sucre educational missions and the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), among others.

“Venezuelan students today should feel proud of what they represent in the world,” said UCV student organizer Kevin Ávila. “Today Venezuelan students understand that we need universities that transform the university, universities that take on the task of developing the country.”

According to official statistics, two million Venezuelans are currently engaged in university-level studies, placing Venezuela second to Cuba among Latin American nations in percentage of adults attending universities. Combined, the UBV and UNEFA alone have half a million registered students.

During previous governments, “students were persecuted, tortured and disappeared,” affirmed Ávila. “That is no longer the case – now we have a president who marches with us, who has been with us for 12 years, and who understands the needs of revolutionary students, of Venezuelan students.”

The new Law of University Education proposed by the student marchers would democratize decision-making at universities nationwide, establishing mechanisms for the entire university (students, staff, workers and members of the community) to participate in decisions on the nature of academic programs, investigations, and the distribution of resources. In addition, universities would be required to disclose all income and expenditures, making a public audit system the norm at all higher-education institutions.

“A new Law of University Education is to be the grand voice of all students,” affirmed Edgardo Ramírez, Venezuela’s Minister of Higher Education, during the march. “It’s a new law to establish a popular and scientific university focused on social inclusion.”

President Chávez, who cancelled his weekly television address to the nation to attend the march, called for unity among “revolutionary students” to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. “You are sons and daughters of the revolution, and you are the fathers and mothers of the future homeland we are working to build,” affirmed Chávez.

Asked if he would attend a national student conference scheduled for 2011, Chávez committed himself “on one condition… unity, unity, unity,” he affirmed.

“I want student unity to help us form the great Patriotic Pole that goes beyond the political parties, that goes much further than the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) or the Communist Party (PCV)… everyone is welcome as we form this patriotic, socialist, Bolivarian and anti-imperialist pole,” said Chávez.

Wielding an algebra textbook he picked up before the march, Chávez called on students to prepare for many years of struggle.

“The day we celebrate 12 years [in power], we’ll have our plan ready for the next 12 years, totaling 24, and 12 more to make 36, and 12 more to make 48… Never again will the bourgeoisie return to power in Venezuela, whatever happens, whatever it costs,” the president affirmed.

“A large part of the task of socialism rests on the shoulders, chests, and minds of the Venezuelan youth of today,” said Chávez to the crowd. “You have a large responsibility and you are taking it on. I congratulate you. Keep taking it on and count on this soldier until the last day of my life.”

Meanwhile, anti-government students from the UCV have called on Venezuelans to march this coming Sunday “in defense of Venezuela” and in opposition to recent government nationalizations and interventions in the housing sector to combat real estate fraud.

UCV student José Luis Betancourt on Tuesday told Globovision that the march on Sunday will be “another opportunity to protest for a just university budget, back payments for professors and workers, failures in infrastructure, deficiencies at the dining halls and in transport.”

On November 21, 1957, a group of university students in Caracas interrupted a cardiology conference being held at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and denounced the crimes of the Marcos Pérez Jiménez dictatorship in place at the time. Considered the beginning of the end of the Jiménez period, this student action was ratified one year later by governmental decree, giving birth to Venezuela’s Day of the University Student.

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