By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Four people were injured on the campus of the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA) in western Venezuela during an attack by a group of an estimated 30 suspected government supporters Wednesday.
ULA Principal Lilian Guerrerro claimed that the assailants, some of who were bearing firearms, had burst into the canteen on the campus and attacked students, two of whom were injured, one with fractured ribs. Two members of the academic staff were also injured as the attackers snatched their cameras, she added.
Guerrero said the students and staff had not provoked anybody. She was reported to have said that some of the attackers had been identified as “known” leaders of President Hugo Chávez's local movements.
The attack followed a similarly sinister assault on a dozen journalists during a protest against the new Education Law on Thursday last week. They, too, are thought to have come under attack from hardline elements among the president’s supporters or chavistas.
One man has been arrested and arrest warrants issued for four others in connection with that incident. The attackers are said to have been seen coming out of a building where TV Avila, a pro-Chávez television channel, has its studios, and they are said to have included a number of women.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Héctor Navarro defended the new law as a legal instrument that Opposition factions were trying to use to create a “destabilizing ambit” in the country.
During a program that morning on state radio, the minister vowed that the “popular bases” would defend the new law against the “lies” he claimed were being made by its “detractors.” The Opposition knew that the law would “break the old educative model” and replace it with one that “educated for liberation,” he said, labelling critics of the law as “fascists.”
The Education Law has been criticised by senior members of the academic community, who claim it will end the autonomy traditionally enjoyed by universities in Venezuela. Navarro commented that this was no surprise, and insisted this was not the case, citing Article 34 of the new law.
The law was rushed through a second debate lasting just 10 hours last Thursday. The first debate was held as far back as 2002, and opponents claim the text that was put to a vote last week and later promulgated on to the statute book was not the same as that debated seven years ago.
Navarro was also said to have declared that anybody who did not comply with the law would be a criminal. This was taken as a reference to prominent academics who have threatened not to comply with the law.
Fenatev, a union in the teaching profession, came back at Navarro, claiming yet again that the Education Law was unconstitutional and therefore it would not be a criminal act to break it. Fenatev President Pedro Morantes claimed there had been several versions of the legislation over the years, all of them different to each other.
The academic council at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas declared itself in permanent session. The government , it said, had gone directly against the popular will expressed in a referendum in December 2007, which had turned down a similar proposal.
That referendum was mainly about Chávez’ first attempt to remove a constitutional ban on successive presidential re-election, but that was wrapped up in a complicated package of other proposals, including changes in educational law.
The referendum rejected the government proposals, including removal of the restriction on “indefinite” re-election, by a narrow margin of 2% of the votes cast. It was, and still is, Chávez’s only electoral setback to date, and he went on to reverse the re-election decision at a second chance referendum in February this year, still regarded by the Opposition as unconstitutionally barred. Now, he stands accused of doing the same with the Education Law.
The Opposition has called a protest march next Saturday to the National Assembly in protest against the Education Law. But National Assembly Deputy Dario Vivas of Chávez’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) appeared to be out to skewer the march plan.
Vivas announced a rival march to the National Assembly in support of the Education Law, starting at nine o’clock on Saturday morning. In doing so, he set the stage for a potential repeat of last Thursday’s events.
On that occasion, there were also two marches, for and against the legislation even as it was rammed through the Assembly. Police broke up the opponents’ march, during which the journalists were attacked, but let the march in support of the law through unmolested.
In Barqisimeto, capital of Lara state, police were investigating an attack around midnight Monday on the headquarters of local teachers’ association. Students again took to the streets in several cities around the country.