Chilean students divided over Venezuelan protests

By Belinda Torres-Leclercq
Published On : Wed, Feb 26th, 2014

Small group of sympathetic students gather in front of Venezuelan Embassy, Young Christian Democrat delegation flies to Caracas to meet opposition.

Several student federations gathered Tuesday in front of the Venezuelan embassy in Santiago to show support for President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government. Photo by @emedeche /Twitter

Several student federations gathered Tuesday in front of the Venezuelan embassy in Santiago to show support for President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government. Photo by @emedeche /Twitter

Hundreds of students gathered in front of the Venezuelan Embassy in Santiago on Tuesday to throw their support behind the government of embattled President Nicólas Maduro — while other student groups remain divided over that country’s recent turmoil.

Paul Floor, president of the Student Federation of the Universidad Técnica Federica Santa María (FEUSM) in 2010 and Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech) international secretary in 2011, said U.S. support for Venezuela’s opposition would have region-wide effects.

“I was present Tuesday because the Bolivarian process isn’t confined to Venezuela,” he told The Santiago Times.

Current representatives of student federations from the Universidad de Concepción, Universidad de Valparaíso and Universidad de Santiago were also among the roughly 300 who attended, according to the Venezuelan Embassy.

Venezuelan Ambassador Arévalo Méndez thanked the students, saying the gathering represented a rejection of U.S. intervention in the region.

“This represents a strong and clear message to the U.S. government, which appears determined to overthrow a legitimate government, a democratically-elected government, chosen by the popular majority in Venezuela,” he said.

Méndez also spoke out against Chile’s Young Christian Democrats (JDC), which sent a delegation to meet with their counterparts in Caracas, who make up part of the opposition movement to Maduro’s Socialist government.

“We don’t need their supervision. For too long, the United States, by means of conservative governments in this continent, has been used to intervention,” Mendez said. “With the arrival of [Hugo] Chávez in 1999, we said ‘no more.’”

The JDC delegation, which arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, is set to meet with student leaders, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the Social Christian Democratic Party of Venezuela (Copei), representatives of the Catholic Church and human rights groups.

“We want to unite with those who seek a peaceful resolution of this crisis, we hope to contribute to the dialogue between both sides,” JDC President José Manuel Ruiz told press Sunday.

After meeting with student representatives of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and the Universidad Simón Bolívar, Ruiz called upon Chilean students Tuesday to show solidarity with their Venezuelan counterparts.

“In Chile, students mobilized to end injustice, now Venezuelan students have stood up to fight for a fair and safe country and to demand that the government take control of the current economic crisis,” Ruiz said.

Most Chilean student representatives, however, are adamant that the two movements have little in common.

Félix Calderón, president of the Student Federation of the Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación (FEP), said the “Bolivarian revolution” begun under Chávez had achieved many of the aims of the student movement in Chile — which calls for free higher education, among other major reforms.

“Venezuela has achieved free, state education, has advanced in the democratization of university, has advanced in the construction of democratic processes in every school, in every neighborhood,” he said at the gathering Tuesday. “As students of a university which forms the future teachers of this country, we cannot but stand by the Bolivarian revolution and its triumphs for Venezuelan youths.”

Major student groups in Chile have also distanced themselves from the protests in Venezuela, including high school group Aces, and the student federations of the Universidad de Chile (Fech) and Universidad de Santiago (Usach).

Others, however, have denounced the crackdown on protesters by the Maduro administration.

President of the Student Federation of the Universidad Católica (FEUC), Naschla Aburman, called on Venezuelan officials to respect protesters right to “demonstrate in peace,” while stopping short of endorsing their demands.

“We believe that students, and citizens in general, regardless of their political ideology, have the right to express their ideas, just as we as Chilean student movement challenged the education system in this country,” she said in a press release last week.

By Belinda Torres-Leclercq
Copyright 2014 – The Santiago Times

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