CARACAS – University students, supported by opposition parties and press union leaders, on Wednesday marched in Caracas to express their rejection of the across the board budget cuts decided upon by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The march from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, where some 60,000 students attend classes, to the Higher Education Ministry was made by several thousand people, including university students, professors and workers.
The march was observed by 1,200 police, but no incidents were reported.
Earlier, however, shots fired into the air were heard, after which a group of masked men burned several vehicles last night and Wednesday morning near and on the UCV campus, although apparently nobody was injured and police made no arrests.
Pro- and anti-Chavez students blamed each other for the vandalism.
The march was joined by students and professors from other universities in the capital and the interior, as well as by activists from various political parties and leaders of press unions identified with opposing the government.
UCV chancellor Cecilia Garcia, who said that about 20 masked men identified as government supporters or agents last night fired guns and tear gas canisters in front of her ofice, and she also expressed her gratitude that the march was met by Higher Education Minister Luis Acuña.
The minister told Garcia and the students’ delegation that the 6 percent budget reduction for universities will not affect “student measures,” by which he meant, among other things, scholarships, dining halls and transport.
Acuña said that “some rectors” had gone against those instructions and had decided to implement budget cuts in those areas to cause “adversity against the government” among the students.
The university budget cuts have been applied to the entire public education administration in the same proportion, as had been announced by Chavez on March 21, he said.
The leftist leader cut the budget from $77.9 billion to $72.74 billion, citing the fall in the international price of oil, Venezuela’s main export.
“Everyone has the right to protest, (but) there’s no reason to burn anything,” remarked Acuña both before and after Wednesday’s march.
Acuña reiterated that the budget cuts constituted an “excuse” to mount an anti-government protest campaign. EFE