Yesterday in Caracas, university students, professors, and employees carried out separate marches in favor of and against the current strikes being held in ten universities throughout Venezuela.
Initiated in May by professors demanding salary increases, the strikes have left approximately 15% of the country’s 2.5 million university students without classes.
Though the Table for Negotiation of the Collective Bargaining of the University Sector reached an agreement of increases ranging from 105% to 147% for university administrators, professors, and workers two weeks ago, the opposition supporting Federation of University Professors Associations of Venezuela (FAPUB) claimed to be “completely unaware” of the agreement, and said its protests would continue.
A mostly opposition march left from Plaza Venezuela to Avenue Victoria, near the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). Citizens expressed their support for “something more than a salary,” according to the president of the Association of Professors of the Simon Bolívar University Rafael Alvarez.
“We're defending the Venezuelan university that we know, in which we educate ourselves and work, in which we defend our autonomy, the plurality of thought and academic freedom” which don’t currently exist, he said.
Several leaders of Venezuela’s political opposition appeared at the march supporting the strike, including former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and head of the party Voluntad Popular Leopoldo López.
Meanwhile, starting at Morelos Plaza, citizens against the university strikes marched to the Plaza Diego Ibarra in the center of Caracas “in defense of education,” as one banner read.
“They have another agenda … “[Their interests] are completely unrelated to the interests of teachers,” general coordinator of the Federation of University Workers of Venezuela, Carlos Lopez said, in reference to the connection between university professors on strike and the political opposition.
Various government ministers expressed their support for the march against the strikes, including Vice-Minister of Youth Hanthony Coello, who maintained that a significant portion of the country’s GDP was devoted to education.
“In other parts of the world, many are fighting for free education,” he added, “but here we have it.”
No incidents of violence were reported at either march, prompting President Nicolas Maduro to state from Nicaragua via his Twitter account that “peace was triumphant today.”
“To those who came overwhelmingly to defend the free and open university education that we have, I express my commitment to continuing its development. And to those from the right who have closed the classrooms of 15% of the enrollment of 2.5 million students, I ask that you reflect, and return to classes,” he wrote.