Which shadows shall we overcome?
By Hernán Zambrano
Crónicas del Asterión. March 20th 2014
On Wednesday 19th March 2014 our worst fears became a reality: violence and death came to spit in our faces and invade our eyes. Death came to remind us that we were at its mercy and will; it came to crush us. Death came because it wanted to arbitrarily and hopelessly subjugate our voices, just because it could.
Today at approximately 1.15pm the FAU Students’ Union convened with one objective: to discuss how to include and recognise the voices and opinions of those students who do not feel represented by the call for a general strike which is being promoted by the student movement. The student assembly ran smoothly and peacefully but at around 4.45pm when the debate was coming to a close and I was about to leave the meeting I spotted six individuals, which I could not identify as FAU students, stepping into one of the faculty’s lifts. Although it seemed peculiar at the time, as I knew there were no scheduled lectures in that particular building that afternoon, I did not pay to much attention. However, I soon discovered the students had also noticed the strangers’ presence in the building and for that reason they had decided to take control and block all of the ground floor accesses as well as the doors to the only (out of four) operational lift in the building.
I also realised at that point that I was the only tutor left among the 60 or 70 students still remaining after the assembly. There were also two watchmen with us, and the couple who run the cafeteria. I felt bound, therefore, to stay and keep an eye on the remaining students. I did not know what else I could do.
We could see that the people who had boarded the lift had reach the eighth floor of the building, where the deanery was located, so we moved towards the watchmen’s front desk where the cctv cameras are located to monitor the activity of the individuals on the eighth floor. There we could clearly see the group of men vandalising the mural that a few days before the students had created for the whole city to see, which read: SECURITY, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, RESPECT AND PEACE.
When the students saw the destruction of their mural they became increasingly incensed. The majority of the students attempted to remain calm and united but soon fear and rage spread among them.
At that point I approached the two watchmen and asked them if they had already contacted the university’s security headquarters but they replied that it was unlikely anyone else would show up and then I realised we were completely on our own. A few seconds later a student ran down the stairs screaming and announced that one of the invading men, who was already on the first floor, was armed. At that point the students began to block the stairs and the lift doors even further. I called a colleague to request backup and I also tried getting in touch with Juan Requesens, the president of the Student’s Union. I also contacted the Faculty’s dean and the university secretary via Twitter. I warned them about the situation and asked for help from the university security services. Just then, I received a message via Twitter letting me know that there was a group of professors on the first floor. They had been there all afternoon attending a postgraduate lecture in an attempt to maintain some sort of academic “normality” after the events of the last few days. I continued, now with even more urgency, to call for help.
The strangers arrived to the landing near the ground floor. I asked one of them through the hollow bricks in the wall to please identify himself. He answered that he was a university student and wondered why we had barricade them there. Some of the students also began to question them on why had they defaced their mural. The strangers argued that they did not agree with the slogans and so felt they had the right to take them down. I seem to remember I heard them say they were “Chavistas” and they did not accept “fascist” displays in the university grounds.
I began to plead with the students to please let the strangers leave, but I was unable to pacify them. One of the student leaders was also trying to calm down the rest of the students but only some were listening to him, while another group of students insisted that the wrongdoers repair the mural before they were allowed to leave the premises.
Soon after, the group of professors who’d been working on the first floor managed to make their way down in the lift. They were visibly nervous but managed to join those of us who were trying to intercede with the students to allow the aggressors to leave the building. The students finally consented to our pleas and allowed the invaders to break through the barricade. By now only about half the students who were there from the beginning of the afternoon were left.
At this point two or three men in motorcycles arrived at the scene. The men who had been trapped on the stairs had called people outside of the school faculty. The time was 5:59pm.
Just at that moment a group of hooded men came crashing in screaming and scattered in all directions. Some of them came running towards me.
The majority of the students ran to the back of the corridors on the ground floor where they became trapped. I froze on the main hall. I did not know what to do. I saw one of the aggressors throwing something to the back of the corridor where the students were; two other men carried guns. All of them carried metal bars or wooden sticks lined with something that I was unable to identify. They threatened the cafeteria attendants while one of the armed men came towards me. He cornered me and pushed me against a column and then asked me if I was a teacher there. I managed to babble a “yes” and lowered my gaze to the ground. I began to feel intense pressure in the head (I feared an episode of high blood pressure). He left me alone and turned towards a younger colleague who stood beside us. He pushed and hit him while accusing him of being one of the instigators of the barricade on the stairs and accused him of attempting to kidnap his friends. He seized his mobile phone and hit him again. I could tell though that they were not interested in us, the teachers, they had come to hunt students. Other hooded men chased and cornered the students; they dragged them across the floor while other men hit them with the wooden sticks. I heard some loud bangs. I heard screams and painful wailing. The aggressors had started firing their guns and I feared for the students’ lives and safety. I managed to make my way towards the edge of the main hall and I leaned against the wall afraid that at any moment the aggressor would come back and place a gun against my head and that would be the end of my life.
I witnessed how they dragged one of the students towards the entrance of the main library. I didn’t dare move and became ashamed of my cowardice. I just kept slowly moving towards the exit of the building with my back against the wall. The teargas had now started filling the hall. I kept moving through the dense cloud of gas. I could barely see or breathe. I just kept thinking at any moment they would spot me and hit me again, or shoot me, or grab me by the neck. Finally I made it to the western corridor, which connects our faculty with the engineering building. I stopped momentarily, I felt miserable and ashamed for not having interceded to help the students. Next to me was my younger colleague. We started walking again, trying to escape without running and we witnessed how a few hooded men guarding the corridors seized one of the leaders from the Students’ Union. The student raised his arms and I feared the worst for him but they only commandeered his bag and then let him go. Petrified, the three of us kept walking towards the deanery of the School of Engineering. It didn’t matter what the people we passed along the way were actually doing, it looked to us as if everyone was part of the armed gang attacking our faculty.
We finally reached the university exit leading to Las Tres Gracias, and from there we made it across to the subway station. The time was 6.17pm. We met several other students and a few other people form the university there. We felt relieved to see one another and at the same time worried because we didn’t know the fate of the rest of our colleagues. Just then, the gang of motorcycle men arrived from within the university and once again panic and fear took over. We ran down the stairs heading underground to the interior of the subway station. In the mayhem that ensued one of the students lost her balance and fell; she had to be assisted by some of her friends. We finally reached the subway platform and waited for the train to arrive. Once inside, many of them could not contain their tears. The passengers on the train looked at us in disbelief; a person could be heard saying to her companion “It’s the Tweeter thing, it’s making them all go crazy”. Hearing that, I felt my soul shatter with sadness.
By the time we arrived to Plaza Venezuela station I could not help but feel that everyone around me was a threat. As soon as I could I called my wife to let her know I was fine and uninjured although I felt utterly humiliated and frightened. The time now was 6:30pm and the short distance of two blocks from the station to my home felt like the longest stretch I had ever covered in my whole life.
It wasn’t until I had crossed the main entrance door to the building where I live that I felt I could breathe again.
When I saw my wife and son waiting for me I knew God had blessed me and guided me back home to their arms.
The role of the director of the Architecture Faculty
The aggressors that had initially invaded the Faculty had substituted the word SECURITY for the word CHAVEZ, which in their haste they did not even finish. A little after these individuals had left the Faculty they came back with reinforcements, approximately 20 or 30 people altogether. Some of them rode motorcycles and carried firearms. The aggressors persecuted and cornered the students on the ground floor of the Architecture and Urbanism Faculty of Central University of Venezuela. The perpetrators proceeded to strip,threaten and attack the students aggressively. They also stole their belongings.
The criminal gang’s actions resulted in 12 injured students, eight of whom were admitted to the University Hospital and the other four were taken to the Science Clinic in Los Chaguaramos district. The injured students suffered multiple bruising to the head, cuts, fractured noses, and other multiple injuries as a result of being battered with wooden sticks and metal bars.
The Dean and the Director of the Architecture Faculty remained with the students at the hospital until all of them had been discharged. Two of the injured students remain under medical supervision; one of them suffered a fractured forearm and the other a broken nose.
The University Principal visited the injured students admitted to the Science Clinic in Los Chaguaramos district and has declared a suspension of all university activities until further notice.
The Dean of the Architecture Faculty also suspended activities until further notice.
My thoughts on what happened that day
As part of the activities during our strike we invited Erick del Búfalo, a professor from Simon Bolivar University, to present his seminal dissertation lecture on the subject of “Fascism”; the same lecture that had taken place earlier in the week at the bookstore Lugar Común in Caracas.
His lecture was enlightening, full of humour and learning, very well balanced and extremely well thought provoking. There are two lessons I can now highlight from what he tried to explain about fascism: first, fascism is exercised by a State that identifies as enemies those who do not recognise and accept it with absolute veneration. Second, a majority dictatorship is an ochlocracy and that has nothing to do with real democracy, which involves the utmost respect for universal human rights.
The architecture students’ assembly was a very beautiful and valuable effort to implement true democracy. Wishing to recognize, respect and value the voices of those who disagree with the purpose and mechanisms of the Student Movement; searching for responsible schemes that cover a spectrum of ideas, and seeking conciliation among all members of the university community.
The events subsequent to the assembly only demonstrated to me how fear and rage can alienate and place us all in conflict with each other. Our reactions that afternoon took us to the edge of collective madness. The attack by armed and violent gangs on the Architecture Faculty is just another incident to add to the long list of aggressions against the university and Venezuelan society in general, that have come about as a result of our “government” (regime) promoting and supporting paramilitary groups, who are indoctrinated in the cult of aggression towards a section of the population and who justify their actions in the name of the “defence of the revolution”.
What we lived through yesterday was only a fraction of what is being experienced – more broadly and more seriously – by the citizens of San Cristobal, Merida, Valencia, Maracay, Ciudad Guayana, Altamira, Chacao, Los Ruices, Montalban, and many other localities, in recent weeks. It is in a way a pale reflection of the fear that Venezuelans up in the barrios (shantytowns) experience on a daily basis.
We can now add this most recent attack to a list of over 70 concrete acts of vandalism and crime that have been perpetrated in the last 15 years against the university’s community, an institution which is part of our national heritage. These acts of vandalism that have remained unresolved by our judicial system.
In my opinion and given the level of brutality of this most recent attack it becomes increasingly obvious that this institution is unable to fulfill its proper role in our society. However, the university is the only remaining bastion that the government has not been able to conquer in their relentless attempt to seize absolute and total control of the State’s institutions.
This is the current reality that Venezuelan university students have a duty to recognise and expose to the rest of the country and the world at large: we are confronting a militarist ochlocracy, a corrupt and autocratic dictatorial regime with fascistic overtones.
This regime is an enemy of the university. Currently, this is the dark shadow that the Venezuelan Central University (UCV) and all other universities in Venezuela have the duty to overcome.
Source: Zamora, Hernán. “Otro ataque a la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo de la UCV ¿Cuál es la sombra a vencer?”
Crónicas del Asterión. March 20th 2014
Main photograph: Taken from the original source “Crónicas del Asterión”.
Translated by #infoVnzla