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Venezuelan Universities On Strike Demand Economic Improvements

Numerous protests have taken place in cities home to some of Venezuela's most important public universities and after various discussions, a general strike has been declared.

The focal point of the struggle is given by the wages of university professors who, despite training and experience, occupy yet another position in the long line of professionals who are drowning economically.

In effect, this is not a new situation. Nonetheless, with the Venezuelan economy's erratic movements and clashes between political groups, the university fight is becoming more and more complicated.

As such, with the controversies that have taken place in recent months between government representatives and public universities, the next episode in a long conflict is being written.

The situation with universities also unavoidably feeds political polarization. Positions are fragmented and diversified. It is argued that the concessions demanded have a lot to do with hidden political interests, the inefficiency of the university strike is discussed, sabotage is brought up as an accusation and different modes of protest are sought out.

Daniela Olivero [es] shares a photo from her Facebook page that shows one of the most widespread ways of protest at that university: classes outside of classrooms.

Fotografía publicada por Daniela Olivero, usada con permiso

Photo posted by Daniela Olivero, used with permission

Similarly, Central University of Venezuela's Facebook page [es] shares various photos of the protests and debates that have taken place:

UCV en asamblea estudiantil sobre el paro indefinido en el Aula Magna. Usada con permiso

Student assembly at UCV's Magna Auditorium regarding indefinite unemployment. Photo shared by Central University of Venezuela on Facebook.

"From professors to poorfessors" photo shared by Universidad Central de Venezuela on Facebook.

“From professors to poorfessors” photo shared by Universidad Central de Venezuela on Facebook.

In favor of the professors’ strike, Gustavo Coronel [es] harshly criticizes the government and incorporates the fight of university professors into national and international dynamics:

…a los profesores universitarios venezolanos, cuanto les pagan? Y cuando les pagan? Les pagan hoy, en bolívares constantes, la cuarta parte de lo que les pagaban en 1999 […] Por ello no es sorprendente que los profesores universitarios venezolanos se vayan a la huelga. Es que ese es un paso inevitable. Como debería serlo el de la huelga cívica indefinida por parte de una población que no tiene papel tualé […]

… how much do they pay Venezuelan university professors? And when? They pay them today, in bolívars [Venezuelan currency], a quarter of what they were paid in 1999 [...] So it is not surprising that Venezuelan professors are going on strike. That is an inevitable step. As an indefinite civil strike on behalf of a population that does not have toilet paper should be [...]

Coronel continues:

Promover la gran protesta es golpista? Pedir al país que insurga es atentar contra la nación? O es, precisamente, tratar de evitar que la nación venezolana sea totalmente destruída por esta pandilla de hampones e ineptos enquistada en el poder? A muchos venezolanos esa lógica falsa del régimen los tiene bajo chantaje. La misma oposición organizada se ha visto obligada a actuar con cautela, temiendo ser tildada de golpista.

Promoting the grand protest is a coup? Asking the country to uprise is threatening the nation? Or is it, precisely, trying to prevent the Venezuelan nation from being totally destroyed by this gang of thugs and inept individuals entrenched in power? This false logic of the regime has many Venezuelans under a spell. The very same organized opposition has been forced to act with caution, fearing being branded as coup leaders.

Raquel Aquino goes on to interview Tatiana Lugo, a retired professor from Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and author of the blog Vainas de Tatiana [es], for El Pretexto [es]. Throughout the interview they discuss the identity of those who form part of the university, particularly the Central University, in addition to the causes and consequences of the professors’ situation as well as their protest.

Los profesores de la UCV son una especie rara: optan por un modo de vida que, por una parte, les da la satisfacción de transmitir conocimientos, les brinda el inmenso honor de ayudar a formar a los profesionales que Venezuela requiere pero por otra les impide tener estabilidad económica. Desgraciadamente, los gobiernos venezolanos a partir de la década de los 80 han decidido, erróneamente, ignorar la importancia de la formación académica [...] los estudiantes carecen de laboratorios modernos, tecnología apropiada, por no hablar de becas y bibliotecas.

The UCV professors are a rare species: they opt for a way of life that, on one hand, gives them the satisfaction of instilling knowledge and the immense honor of helping mold professionals that Venezuela needs, but on the other hand prevents them from having economic stability. Disgracefully, since the 1980s the Venezuelan government has decided, mistakenly, to ignore the importance of academic training [...] students lack modern laboratories, appropriate technology, let alone scholarships and libraries.

In the same post she revealed the costs of basic products and compared them with professor wages (the source of the figures come from the Association of UCV Professors [es], from May 2013):

In a convergent point of view on his blog, ven-educa, Yonathan Ruiz [es] sees the situation of universities and the strike as a demonstration of malice on behalf of the higher education officials responsible for this and laments that despite the country's economic possibilities, the education sector finds itself struggling for resources:

Que los educadores de las universidades públicas tengan que dejar las aulas para salir a la calle a exigir y defender derechos inherentes a su alta investidura, es un síntoma inequívoco de mezquindad de quienes pudiendo haber evitado esto, no lo hicieron. [...]

Si el país, concretamente el Estado, no trata y no valora suficientemente al talento de los educadores, difícilmente lograremos remontar la enorme cuesta que tenemos con la crisis sociocultural que nos ha traído hasta aquí.

The fact that educators at public universities have to leave their classrooms and take to the streets to demand and defend the inherent rights to their high office is an unequivocal symptom of the malice of those who could have avoided this but did not. [...]

If the country, specifically the State, does not try and does not sufficiently value the talent of educators, it will be extremely difficult for us to overcome the enormous costs that we have with the sociocultural crisis that has brought us here.

And as we pointed out, positions are diversifying. In various sectors of Venezuelan opinion, the university strike is seen as an eroded and inefficient resource. David Da Silva [es], an International Studies student at UCV explains it as such and also comments on the position of labor unions amidst the conflict:

En mi opinión, los paros del sector universitario no tienen el mismo peso político y económico que, por poner un ejemplo, un paro de trabajadores en las empresas básicas de Guayana. Esto último conllevaría a una disminución en la producción de aluminio, acero y hierro, lo cual comprometería de manera importante la continuidad de la gran misión Vivienda Venezuela.

En cambio, los paros en la educación superior afectan principalmente a la misma comunidad universitaria.

In my opinion, the strikes in the university sector do not bear the same political and economic weight as a workers strike in the basic industries of Guayana, to give an example. The latter would lead to a decrease in production of aluminum, steel, and iron, which would significantly jeopardize the continuity of Vivienda Venezuela's grand mission.

The strike in higher education, however, mainly affects the university community itself.

With respect to the situation of the administrative employees of the university, he maintains:

Algunos movimientos o grupos estudiantiles que se identifican con la izquierda política, y que por lo tanto mantienen una actitud pro-gobierno, han tratado de llevar la situación que vive el personal universitario al plano político, cuestión que no me parece correcta, ya que se desvirtúa una realidad gremial, sindical, laboral y entran en discusión otros temas que están totalmente fuera de contexto.

Some movements or student groups that identify themselves with the political left, and therefore maintain a pro-government attitude, have tried to bring the situation that the university staff is living through to the political level, an issue that does not seem correct to me, since it distorts a trade, union, and labor reality and other issues that are completely out of context enter the discussion.

In a video that Isabel Matos shares, a number of professors from the School of Modern Languages (of Central University of Venezuela) give their testimonies. They explain how much they earn, what they spend it on, other activities they need to do in order to make it to the end of the month, and the consequences this can have in their performance within university activities.

Providing much more critical insight, Profesor Pablo Aure [es] explains why he finds himself against the university strike, despite agreeing with various arguments discussed and having been penalized, he says, for opposing the strike:

Desaprovechamos la mejor tribuna que son las aulas de clases o los pasillos para conversar con nuestros estudiantes y colegas sobre la situación nacional.

Si piensan que parando la Universidad “le ablandaremos” el corazón a esta gente que deliberadamente tienen como objetivo exterminarnos: se equivocan.

Mi llamado es a la reflexión y pensar en esos miles de estudiantes que tienen su proyecto de vida, también a esos miles de familiares que hacen sacrificios para costear los estudios de sus muchachos.

We are losing out on the best platform that is the classrooms or hallways to have conversations with our students and colleagues about the national situation.

If you think that stopping the University “will soften” the heart of these people that deliberately aim to exterminate us: you are mistaken.

My calling is to reflection and thinking of those thousands of students that have their life project, and also of those thousands of families that have made sacrifices to pay for their children's education.

Heriberto Gómez explains from the city of Mérida, in the west, some consequences of the university strike on Aporrea [es]:

- Un día de clases que pierde un estudiante, no lo recuperará más nunca en su vida. Será un día perdido para siempre, así le den luego la clase.
- En la ULA [Universidad de Los Andes] por cada día laboral que se pierde por paro, se echan a la basura 4 millones de bolívares fuertes.[…]
- Para los estudiantes que son de afuera de Mérida o de las ciudades donde se localicen sus centros de estudios, un día de paro significa una importante pérdida económica para ellos y sus padres, pues igual deben pagar residencias, comidas y otros gastos de vida, a pesar de no estar en clases.

- Each day of classes that a student loses, they will never recuperate in their lives. It will be a day lost forever, even if they are taught the class later.

- In ULA [University of Los Andes], for every work day lost due to the strike, 4 million bolívars are thrown away.

[...]

- For students from outside of Mérida or cities where their centers of study are located, one day of striking means an important economic loss for them and their parents, since they also have to pay for room, board and other costs of living, despite not being in class.

Among the list of causes, the author also points to the possible intentions that, according to him, are behind those who direct the professors’ strike:

Detrás del paro hay otros intereses ocultos, pues está dirigido por profesores con clara identificación político-partidista opositoras al gobierno nacional. Así se cumplan sus reivindicaciones salariales, sus intereses políticos y personales son otros.

There are other hidden interests behind the strike, as it is lead by professors with a politico-partisan identification clearly opposed to the national government. As such their wage concessions are fulfilled, while their political and personal interests are different.

At the time of this post's publication, universities on the national level have declared an indefinite strike.

Meanwhile, the majority of the communications take place in a public manner, in the traditional media and through citizen media.

University campuses remain closed and the universities, in protest or with lectures expand in the digital world and in the streets.

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