Last week, 15 Universidad Simón Bolívar students were arrested while protesting. You probably heard about them because of the extensive and heroic media coverage that we’re so used to in Caracas. For me, the case hit close to home I graduated from this school four years ago. It could have easily been me.

The USB kids had many dolientes. Thanks to the plentiful footage, there was a massive public outcry and a well-organized Twitter campaign named #LiberenALaSimón that opposition parties joined almost immediately.

The regime was intimidated.

Thankfully you might say miraculously the students were taken before a civilian judge (as the Constitution demands), the Prosecutors’ Office did not charge them, and the students were cleared of any wrongdoing. They didn’t get a régimen de presentación. Just sent home. Free.

Thank you, Foro Penal.

This week, 20-something other students were arrested while protesting, and I swear, it was so much worse. The arrests were made inside a university campus, in clear breach of university autonomy provisions in Article 109 of the Constitution. SEBIN beat up the security guards. The president of the student federation was among the detainees. Yet… you probably didn’t hear about them until now.

Maracay es monte y culebra.

It’s a difference worth pondering.

The arrests were made inside a university campus, in clear breach of university autonomy provisions

For one thing, it turns out that 18 years into a socialist revolution, elite connections still matter when it matters the most. Students from all over the country compete to get into the elite USB, their families tend to have tons of social capital. When the time comes to generate pressure, they have the connections it takes to push back. Kids at UPEL? They’re out of luck here.

The other point is about visibility. The lopsided concentration of journalists in Caracas turns out to be a matter of life-or-death. With precious little media coverage, #LiberenALaUPEL went nowhere. With too-little, too-late MUD-party solidarity, we just learned that all 27 students were illegally tried in military courts.  

After an eleven-hour hearing that finished today at 7 a.m., all of them were convicted, and the men were sent to jails in faraway states. They were driven off amid gunshots and tear gas without even a chance to bid their relatives goodbye. There was nothing Foro Penal could do.

This stuff is devastating.

There’s a hard, but very important lesson to learn if you live outside Caracas.

A lesson our own Emi learned some weeks ago: being watched changes the way power behaves.

So make the world watch. Pick up your smartphone. Record the abuses. Upload. Organize sharing networks. Tweet with all you’ve got. Once the evidence is up, once everyone’s talking about it, the government can’t help but back down.

At our current juncture, evidence of human rights abuses is, quite literally, the only thing that will stop them.

Make it rain.

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  1. I also assume LOD played a role in the USB students being tried/freed in a civilian court, and not being tried in a military court, as were the UPEL students? Anyways, the number of political prisoners jailed will soon reach 500, many more than in MPJ’s time (unadjusted, of course, for population growth).

  2. I think the fact that they were in Caracas plays a much bigger role. People really don’t give too much thought on what happens in the “interior”.

  3. Appalled by what happened to the UPEL kids.
    The well deserved prestige of the USB had to play a role. The military academies level are light years behind the USB. Face it, there is rampant discrimination.

  4. I wouldn’t be so sure about your statement on “their families tend to have tons of social capital”. Maybe for 00’s to 09’s it was like that, but most 10’s-16’s students with enough capital or social capital, left the USB for good in the sep-dec 2015 paro.

    I think a very interesting point here, instead of their own social capital, could be the capital político of Juan Andres Mejia, Roberto Patiño, Alfredo Graffe, A. Kabbabe, A. Zerpa, Daniel Ascanio, etc, etc. USB students or former students who enjoy very high esteem from their political peers in every party. They are all over the asamblea, in different commissions, groups, etc.

    Their intelligence and agility has taken them there. Most politicians love USB graduates.

    100% hard earned capital, that I’m sure played a HUGE importance in how this story finally developed.

    Let’s pray for the UPEL students.

    • As an USB graduate, all the pride I can feel for all the prestige that institution has got over the years and by the efforts of graduates better than me is … well, nothing, if put beside to the fact that some other student is now being tortured because they were not so lucky to be at USB in the capital.

      I hope the USB student movement is movilizing for the UPEL student release.

  5. One of the cornerstones of all politics is what one might call the histrionic spirit , things matter because they are more noticed not for what they are in substance , usually random historical and cultural factors make some people or causes or groups more noticed than others , there are entire groups which are invisible and others which always bask in the limelight , the regime is exquisitely attuned to this histrionic mode of assesing things , there is a food riot in ccs and it will get more attention than any number of food riots in the provinces , its irrational and perhaps unjust but very human ….!!

  6. Good piece. I am also a USB graduate (1981 / Carnet 76). I am very happy you wrote what most were thinking but incapable of putting into words!


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