Students Protest Chavez’ Budget Cuts, Threats Against Critical Media

May 21, 2009 - 12:36 AM
Thousands of university students marched through Venezuela's capital on Wednesday demanding more state financial aid for public universities after President Hugo Chavez's government reduced funding by six percent.~~
student protest, Venezuela

Venezuelan riot police watch during a protest against President Hugo Chavez’ policies in Caracas on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. (AP Photo)

Caracas (AP) – Thousands of university students marched through Venezuela's capital on Wednesday demanding more state financial aid for public universities after President Hugo Chavez's government reduced funding by six percent.

The crowd – comprising thousands of students, professors and university workers – chanted anti-Chavez slogans as they marched toward Venezuela's education ministry, where they raised their concerns with Higher Education Minister Luis Acuna.

Acuna said funding was reduced as part of a broader initiative to cut overall government spending by 6.7 percent.

Many demonstrators also criticized Chavez for demanding sanctions against the television station Globovision – the last channel on the regular airwaves that remains fiercely critical of the government. Chavez opponents fear the government could sanction – or even temporarily shut down – Globovision to punish the opposition-sided channel.

"I'm here to protest against the university budget cut and for my country's freedom," said Maria de Guevara, a 57-year-old animal trainer.

Shortly after the protest march set out from the Central University of Venezuela, roughly a dozen hooded vandals commandeered three buses inside the campus, and later set fire to them.

Jose Hidalgo, a driver of one of the buses, said the armed assailants robbed passengers before torching the buses.

University students have led numerous protests in recent years against Chavez's efforts to centralize power and weaken his political foes.

Students helped Venezuela's opposition deal Chavez his worst ever political defeat in 2007, when voters rejected proposed changes to the constitution that would have enshrined socialist principles in the charter while increasing the president's power.

Chavez won another referendum in February eliminating term limits, which will allow him to run for office again in 2012.