VENEZUELA: Escualido war at the University of Los Andes?

November 17, 1993

Coral Wynter & Jim McIlroy, Caracas

Merida is a lovely city located high in the Andes. It is a famous resort, well-known to tourists. On the afternoon of June 21 students were watching a game of football on the TV set in the cafeteria of the humanities department of the University of Los Andes (ULA). Suddenly, an armed group wielding large calibre weapons and wearing balaclavas descended from a university bus and entered the cafeteria. The group threatened to shoot everyone there.

Students ran in all directions. One of the armed group brutally beat up a female student. Another beat up Inti Sarcos, a student known as a supporter of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's socialist president. Sarcos's face was disfigured and his kidney almost ruptured. The armed group is still wandering around ULA with impunity.

The revolutionary process that is taking place in Venezuela is being fiercely resisted by opposition forces, known here as escualidos. The radical "Bolivarian revolution", which has begun to empower the poor majority of Venezuela, has been led by Chavez and his supporters.

A number of key public officials in Merida back the anti-Chavez forces. Merida was one of the cities where the most violence took place during a US-backed coup in April 2002 that briefly overthrow Chavez. During the coup, the Andean public prosecutor, Galucci, was responsible for assaulting the governor of Merida, kidnapping and beating him. Galucci has never been charged for this crime and is still retains his position.

Merida is also one of the states with the greatest number of assassinations of peasants by Colombian paramilitaries, hired by the cattle barons opposed to the Chavez government's land reform policies, occurs regularly with impunity.

The Andean gang of escualidos includes the rector of the ULA, Lester Rodriguez, who is a high-ranking member of the reactionary Catholic secret society Opus Dei; the vice rector, Humberto Ruiz; and the dean of the faculty of humanities, Laura Luciani Toro.

Rodriguez is described by the progressive Caracas weekly Los Papeles de Mandinga as a "criminal who organises armed gangs". The ULA rector controls a group of criminals called Movimiento 13 de Marzo (March 13 Movement — M-13), whose members include Nixon Moreno (his parents named him after Richard Nixon) and Alfredo Contreras, who have been terrorising the academics and students of ULA.

Moreno, the leader of M-13, has been a "student" at the faculty of humanities for 14 years and has been involved in numerous violent actions at ULA.

During the same week as the invasion of the cafe, a van with ULA markings was noticed by a group of students in the main street of Merida. Driving the van was an M-13 member.

A variety of guns could be seen inside the van. A group of Bolivarian students surrounded the van, preventing the van from moving. The police and Manuel Castillo, a lawyer from the public prosecutor's office, arrived not long after. Castillo prevented the immediate seizure of the vehicle, arguing that the vehicle belonged to ULA and therefore enjoyed the right of autonomy, ignoring the fact it was outside the university.

The arms were later removed from the van and hidden. Rodriguez eventually admitted on television that he had given the M-13 use of the van.

Another member of the group of escualidos, Fernando Perez, who is Merida's public prosecutor, accused the pro-Chavez Sarcos of shooting an M-13 member and other specious charges. Yet Perez took two weeks to charge Moreno for shooting a police officer.

The officer was shot on May 24 when police entered the campus to disarm the gang. Thirty-six police officers and National Guard soldiers were wounded, and a female officer was brutally sexually assaulted.

A warrant for Moreno's arrest was only issued after enormous public pressure, and the delay allowed him time to go into hiding.

In contrast, Sarcos has avoided prison only because lawyers from the Bolivarian Force of Lawyers, took swift steps to prevent him facing court.

On June 30 the US-based Chronicle of Higher Education published a report misrepresenting the Merida events, alleging the Venezuelan government had undemocratically prevented student elections taking place at ULA (the Supreme Court ruled that the ULA administration and faculty had exerted undue influence on the elections). But the Chronicle didn't make a single mention of the shootings and the armed M-13 gang marauding through the campus.

It is this same gang of criminals who have controlled the ULA Merida student union for many years, with their student credentials supplied by Toro. Usually, the university authorities administer the elections, but because of the bloody disturbances the court ruled the elections should take place under the auspices of the National Electoral Council.

A special commission of the National Assembly will investigate the May 24-29 Merida incidents. Heading the commission is Obdulio Camacho, a National Assembly deputy. Camacho will present a full report to the assembly, according to the July 4 Ultimas Noticias.

[Material in this report has been drawn from Los Papeles de Mandinga.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 19, 2006.
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