Right-wing students fight the army in southwest Venezuela
News is coming in of armed clashes between opponents of the Chavez government and National Guard soldiers in the small southwestern state of Merida. Armed with pistols and firebombs, right-wing militants based at the University of Los Andes have wounded twenty-nine soldiers, three of them seriously. (Bizarrely enough, the two main leaders of the insurgent students have the names Stalin Gonzalez and Nixon Moreno.)
The students and their supporters are opposed to a range of government policies, including attempts to broaden popular access to tertiary education by lowering the bars to admission to elite universities like the University Los Andes. The notion of right-wing student militancy might seem odd, especially in Venezuela, which has a very long history of left-wing student activism, but I mentioned a couple of months back that there had been a polarisation of opinion in Venezuela's intellectual community, reflected in large protests for and against Chavez's reforms to the education system last year. What appears to be new is the use of violence by the Merida students.
The trigger for the violence seems to have been attempts by Venezuela's electoral commission to monitor student elections at the University Los Andes. Leftist students had complained to the commission that the electoral process was manipulated by right-wing university administrators and their supporters in the student body.
Franz JT Lee has a typically waffly account of the violence in Merida up at the vheadline website. He tells us that the 'revolution is in immediate and serious danger', but doesn't explain why he thinks that what appears to be a local outbreak of violence in a relatively isolated state should be such a threat. The rabidly anti-Chavez Devil's Excrement blog has a report from the fighting and some photographs here.
Approach with caution.
Update: Venezuelanalysis is running a report on the violence here. Excerpts:
[T]he Venezuelan daily, El Mundo, reported last Friday, that various other Universities have joined in the protests, and are calling for a national demonstration tomorrow and a student march across the country...
While last week’s events are still unclear, government sources report that 26 Venezuelan National Guard and Police were wounded in the violence, many from gunshots. One officer is still in critical condition, and another testified to have just narrowly escaped a rape attempt. According to most reports, 10 students were wounded...
According to VTV, the Minister of Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón, has categorically denied that the National Guard and police forces raided the ULA...
Rumors have surfaced over the possibility that last week’s violence could have been instigated by paramilitaries acting as students. The website, Rebelion.org, reported last Thursday that “a group of organized mercenaries, acting and looking more like Colombian paramilitaries than students, burst in to the Center of the Humanities Faculty, well armed with high-caliber pistols and machine guns, faces covered with ski masks… with radios of the latest technology… and dispersed throughout Merida in strategic locations, in small groups, all armed, and interconnected through the radio system.”