Caracas, November 21st 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – At least 20,000 Venezuelan students took to the streets of Caracas this Monday to celebrate the country’s National Day of University Students. Traditionally held on the 21st of November, the occasion commemorates the 1957 university strike which was prominent in bringing down the Venezuelan dictator, Marcos Pérez Jiménez.
Marching to the Miraflores Palace, students handed over a document to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reasserting their commitment to deepening the Bolivarian process and constructing the Great Patriotic Pole – a broad front which comprises most of the popular organisations and political parties that support the advance of the revolution. The march was organised to follow the closing ceremony of the first Bolivarian Students’ Bicentennial Conference, held over three days in Caracas last weekend.
The document is the culmination of over a year of organisation within the student movement, with more than 16,000 students participating in the writing of the text throughout the course of the past year.
“We’re here today, supporting each other as a unified bloc, in favour of this just struggle, in favour of free education and in favour of the socialist education which has allowed us to study,” said José López from the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, established in 2003 as a product of the government’s Mission Sucre.
Addressing the students gathered outside Miraflores, Chavez stated that the Venezuelan youth would be the future of the revolution, and responsible for carrying forward the socialist project within the country.
“We will do it, and it is down to you to finish the job. For as long as I might live, I am sure that I will not see Venezuela as I want it, but you are the ones who will do it,” said the president.
The Venezuelan mandate also expressed his desire to see more direct student participation in the running of their universities and faculties.
“I am eager, very eager, for the student councils of popular power to be established soon, to start transferring power, but real, self-governing student power, to the student movement. That is the only way to solve a lot of the problems that the government or universities aren’t solving,” said Chavez, who added that students should manage their own transport routes, residences and student diners.
First Bolivarian Students’ Bicentennial Conference
During the conference over the weekend, participants split into various work groups to discuss issues such as the role of the national student movement in the construction of socialism; the consolidation of the Great Patriotic Pole, President Chavez’s bid for re-election in 2012, and those student movements currently engaged in resistance struggles across the globe.
According to the conference organisers, 2100 student delegates from all over the country participated in the event after having been selected at various regional and national meetings.
“It is an initiative to keep deepening the work of the student body with regards to unity, and directed towards constructing strategies to work together and cement protagonstic participation,” said Yadira Córdova from the Congress, Minister of University Education.
Aside from the celebrations, students also commemorated those who had died during the era of the Fourth Republic (1958-1998), when many student activists on the left were killed and tortured at the hands of the state. Various services in remembrance of the Macarao massacre took place on Sunday, marking twenty years since several students were murdered by police under the government of Carlos Andres Perez in 1991.
The Venezuelan student movement not only played a vital role during the uprising against the Jiménez dictatorship, but also in the national guerrilla movements of the 1960s and the ensuing popular struggles against privatisation and neo-liberalism throughout the last two decades of the 20th century.
This militancy however was often met by brutal repression by the Punto Fijo government, with many students making up the body counts of some of Venezuela’s most notorious massacres.
Francisco Gonzales, ex-militant in the student movement, described the repression of the 1990s to Venezuelanalysis.com, relating how he was shot, tortured and almost killed by the Venezuelan army in the barrio of Caricua, Caracas.
“They were going to throw me into el Junquito (river), where they threw all the dead students, I really thought that I would die that day…but I was lucky, I nearly ended up a statistic… They repressed us really badly, the PTJ they were called, the Judicial Technology Police, they always used to come into the secondary school where we studied to mess us up,” he said.
Since coming to power in 1998, the current Venezuelan government has undertaken many initiatives to promote the remembrance of these struggles and massacres within the nation’s historical memory. In an important step, the recently passed Law against Forgetting seeks to investigate the perpetrators of politically-motivated state repression during the Fourth Republic and publically remember their victims.
“Others didn’t make it to be able to tell the story. It’s good that they pay tribute to them today. I remember murdered comrades and it fills me with nostalgia, for them and that whole era. I am just one more child of that process, I grew up with it, and learnt how to do politics from my experience,” said Gonzales.
At one of the remembrance services in the west of Caracas on Sunday, Vice-president Elias Jaua explained to those gathered that “being a student was synonymous with being a criminal for the Fourth Republic”.