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Venezuelans March For and Against Education Law
Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

By Tamara Pearson
August 24, 2009

There were marches across Venezuela on Saturday, both to support and protest the Education Law, which was passed on 14 August. Thousands marched and celebrated the new law in Caracas, while the opposition protest turned violent after it deviated from its planned route.

The marches in favour of the new law were part of a "Festival for Education and Peace" which also rejected the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia.

Copies of the new law were distributed at the marches and in Caracas there were a number of stages with different music, dance, and theatre groups performing.

Student leader Robert Serra, speaking at the march in Caracas, highlighted the importance of having won the equal vote on universities through the new law. "Many have died for this benefit," he said, referring to the student struggle for democracy on campus over the past several decades.

Serra also criticised the opposition for setting up a "media show" rather than sustaining a debate around the law. "We want universities by the people... for the poor," he said. "We want educated people that aren't easily manipulated."

The opposition march in Caracas tried to go beyond its designated route and some marchers broke through the temporary metallic fence that police had rigged at the end of the route.

Some protestors threw objects such as rocks, paint bombs, and bottles at the police, who were unarmed. Police responded with tear gas. Six police were injured.

Venezuela's Radio Mundial reported that on Friday in a meeting with public security personnel about the marches, the opposition representative, Oscar Perez, left before the opposition route had been decided on. Later, opposition legislator Ismael Garcia said they would march where they wanted since they were not granted permission to march to the National Assembly.

Minister for Justice, Tareck El Aissami, said the opposition had prepared the violence in advance. The public prosecutor, Luisa Diaz, ordered an investigation into the opposition march to determine who was responsible for the violence.

Opposition leaders responded by requesting that the public prosecutor investigate Colonel Antonio Torres for "ordering... the repression of the participants in the march against the Organic Education Law."

On 14 August the National Assembly passed the new Education Law, which controversially increases the role of the state in education and guarantees that education is "a universal human right and fundamental, inalienable, non-renounceable social duty, and a public service... governed by the principles of integrality, cooperation, solidarity, attentiveness, and co-responsibility."

That same day, supporters and opponents of the newly passed law marched. When police intervened to keep the two marches away from each other, marchers threw rocks and glass bottles, the police responded with tear gas, and there were several injuries.


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