Students Protest Against Chavez

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Here are exerts from an article in today's WSJ.

A Bid to Ease Chávez's Power Grip
Students Continue Protests in Venezuela;
President Threatens Violence
By JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA
June 8, 2007; Page A4

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A student movement that has swept across Venezuela is posing a strong challenge to President Hugo Chávez's drive to extinguish independent power centers in the universities and media.

Although Mr. Chávez continues to have a firm grip on the government, the student protests have demonstrated a broad uneasiness with his efforts to dominate Venezuelan society. ...

The student protests were sparked by the closure in late May of an opposition television station, Radió Caracas Television, or RCTV. The students seek to convince Mr. Chávez to give up plans to remake Venezuela's educational system. The closure of RCTV appeared to convince the students that Mr. Chávez meant business when he announced a plan to create a "revolution within the university." Students and professors fear that would mean an end to university autonomy and an imposition of Cuban-style socialist ideology. ...

Student organizers have been careful to portray their movement not as anti-Chávez, but as pro-freedom of expression, and have kept their distance from the largely discredited leaders of Mr. Chávez's political opposition. Shunning violent confrontation, students have adapted tactics such as handing grim-faced riot police red carnations. One day this week, groups of students with their mouths taped shut rode the city's subways holding signs that said "Peace," and "Tolerance." ...

The number of Venezuelans who have a favorable opinion of the president has fallen 10 percentage points to 39% since November, according to Hinterlaces, a Caracas pollster. Skyrocketing crime, inflation and shortages of basic foods have contributed to Mr. Chávez's fall in popularity since he won re-election by a landslide in December.

... students come from all walks of life and many are poor or working class. "You see all kinds of students here. There are no 'oligarchs,'" says Pamela Lora, a 20-year-old public-health student at UCV. "This has nothing to do with President Bush or with any 'empire,'" she scoffs.

The Chávez government has wavered in its response. After using tear gas and rubber bullets to break up student demonstrations last week, police have moderated their approach.

The state television network, which usually ignores anti-Chávez protests, broadcast the encounter. Mr. Rodriguez listened as student leader Eduardo Torres lectured him: "We are not delinquents, we are democrats and will stay on the streets." ...

Even some Chávez allies in the legislature are expressing dissatisfaction with the president's efforts to consolidate power.

But Mr. Chávez hasn't forsworn threats in dealing with the students, who he has accused of being the dupes of a U.S. plot to destabilize his government. At an hours-long press conference Wednesday, Mr. Chávez threatened to lead "the people" in a bout of "Jacobin revolutionary violence" against students.

... The student protests began after Mr. Chávez refused to renew the broadcast license of RCTV, arguing that the outlet had tried to destabilize his government, been disrespectful of authority and endangered children's morals by showing spicy programming. A Hinterlaces poll showed about 80% of Venezuelans opposed the closure, which also unleashed a barrage of international and domestic criticism. Since then, Mr. Chávez threatened to cancel the license of Globovision, the sole remaining broadcaster that is critical of his rule. ...
 

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