VENEZUELA: Students march for education access, against violence


Coral Wynter & Jim McIlroy, Caracas

Some 15,000 students from around Venezuela, dressed in the red T-shirts of the Bolivarian revolution (as the movement led by socialist President Hugo Chavez to build a new society based on the principles of participatory democracy and social justice is known), marched on June 3 to call for the removal of the proof of academic aptitude (PAA) prerequisite for entry to university. The marchers also rejected the violent actions of right-wing groups on different universities around the country in recent weeks.

The march follows incidents in late May at the University of Los Andes in Merida, when right-wing students and armed provocateurs fired at police and National Guard members, injuring some seriously. The alleged cause of the turmoil was a court decision to delay elections for the ULA student union on the grounds that opposition-controlled university authorities had undue influence on the conduct of the elections.

A student leader of the June 3 march, Elio Hernandez, said, "We don't want violence, but at the same time [the authorities] must respect our rights. We are also asking that the students should get out of the lecture rooms and connect with the communities, and work with the community councils [new bodies aiming to create popular power by communities to democratically govern themselves] and plan for the kind of country that we all want", according to the June 4 issue of the daily Ultimas Noticias.

The march included students from high schools and technical schools as well as universities, and participants were bussed in from Barinas, Portuguesa and Merida. Many participants were members of the Organisation of Bolivarian Students and mobilised under the theme "The roar of the new generation".

Addressing the students, Chavez promised to work quickly to meet their demand to eliminate the PAA. He said that the mode of entry to the universities "is a remnant of the Fourth Republic [the period of corrupt two-party rule from 1958-98 before Chavez was elected], which served as a means of excluding students and aiding corruption", reported Ultimas Noticias. Chavez congratulated the students for pressing the government for action. reported on May 25 that the government had granted another key demand of the student movement — replacing the government loan to assist students with living costs while they study with a grant. This move is expected to greatly help poor Venezuelans, as they will not be burdened by debt when they graduate.

Yoleida Placeres, from the public relations department of the education ministry, told Green Left Weekly that the PAA must be eliminated "because the majority of students are excluded, as there are not enough places for all the students who want to study. There are also internal procedures for students to enter certain departments, including medicine. If your parents are rich, they pay money to have their children accepted into the course." He added: "It's really difficult for students to get into the [prestigious] Central University of Venezuela [UCV]. For every 4000 students who apply, only 100 will be accepted.

"At the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, [the new campus created by the government that aims to give priority to previously excluded poor students], there is not enough space for all the students who wish to attend. The colleges that, during the day, teach high school students, are now being used at night for university courses because of the lack of buildings."

Placeres explained that the student movement is also pushing for the transformation of the education system: "The students want to create universities in every municipality, that are closely related to the communities. They don't want a course that is separated from the needs of the people."

In response to violence perpetrated by right-wing student groups, Placeres told GLW: "These are groups belonging to the [right-wing] opposition that want to create chaos on the universities. They are very small. They are located at the UCV, ULA and the University of Zulia. They are not proper students. They have enrolled as students just to make trouble."

From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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