Venezuela: students mobilise to defend the revolution

The corporate owned- and controlled-media's accounts of recent events in Venezuela give the impression that a new student movement is fighting for their democratic rights against an increasingly autocratic government. This is testimony to the way the corporate media turns reality on its head — making the victim look like the aggressor and vice versa.

The catalyst for the much-publicised protests by a layer of students in Venezuela was the Chavez government's decision not to renew Radio Caracas Television's (RCTV) concession to use the state-owned Channel 2 airwave. RCTV is owned by multimillionaire Marcel Granier and the socialist government decided instead to open a new channel as part of what it refers to as a campaign to "democratise" the media.

The opposition called the move the move an attack on free speech, and a layer of students led violent riots. The images of security forces responding has subsequently been used to claim that the Chavez government is cracking down on dissent. Despite opposition groups' claims of mass arrests of students, Venezuelan attorney-general said that only nine people were being held — none of whom were students, a June 6 Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) report stated.

The corporate media has all but ignored much larger student protests supporting the government's decision. These protests have pointed to RCTV's role in helping to organise the failed US-backed coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002 as a legitimate reason not to renew its licence. RCTV will continue broadcasting via cable.

The backdrop to these events is the peaceful and democratic revolution, led by the Chavez government, which has repeatedly been endorsed at the ballot box. The government's aim is to completely transform the country, replacing the elite neoliberal economic model with a new, democratic and inclusive social and economic system that empowers the oppressed majority.

Part of this revolution has been the attempt, through the social missions, to create a new education system. The missions are one way the government has been able to redistribute to the poor majority the oil wealth that previously flowed largely into the pockets of the corrupt elite, such as Granier.

So, for instance, Mission Robinson has eradicated illiteracy by teaching 1.5 million people to read and write. Mission Ribas provides high school education to people of all ages, many of whom, due to poverty, missed out on getting a formal education. Mission Sucre aims to extend tertiary education throughout society, providing access to university to the previously excluded poor majority. This has largely been done through the new Bolivarian University. Education is free of charge and the missions are under community control. As a result of these policies, nearly 13 million Venezuelans, around half the population, are enrolled in some form of study according to ministry of information figures released in September.

But while the Chavez government is attempting to create a new, democratic model of education, the old universities are resisting the reforms, preferring instead to remain the bastions of the privileged. And it is from these elite institutions that the anti-government protesters have been drawn.

The Venezuelan government has released evidence showing that, despite the anti-government protesters presenting themselves as independent of the opposition groups behind the 2002 coup, these same forces are behind the students who protested the RCTV decision. Both the government and revolutionary student groups claim that the student riots are part of a new campaign by the US-backed opposition to destabilise the country.

Rather than respond to this campaign of destabilisation with repression, the government and revolutionary students have held a widespread discussion and debate of the issues. Insisting that Venezuela's universities were "open to debate", Venezuelan education minister Luis Acuna declared himself willing to travel wherever any students wanted to discuss the RCTV decision. According to a June 4 ABN report, Acuna said the call for dialogue was aimed at "all the students, those who support the national government and those who think differently".

El Universal.com reported on June 5 that Celia Flores, president of the National Assembly, said the parliament would host a student debate on the RCTV decision on June 7. ABN reported that opposition student leaders attended the meeting only to read a statement and then walked out, refusing to participate in the televised debate. ABN reported on June 6 that the pro-revolution Bolivarian Student Union had called for representatives of the Organisation of American States in Venezuela to mediate a debate it has set for June 16 on the issue. At the time of writing, representatives of the students who oppose the RCTV decision hadn't responded.

Acuna ascribed the differences over the RCTV decision as one based on class: "Most of those students who participate in the riots have a different conception because they have a different socioeconomic condition and they did not suffer the severity of neoliberalism."

However, students who support the progressive changes, overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds, are increasingly organising to show the world that the Venezuelan people back the country's democratic revolution.