Unequally Repressed: Why USB Students Walk while UPEL Kids Rot in Jail

After fifteen chamos from Universidad Simón Bolívar were arrested, the internet erupted and, soon, they were freed. Students from less prestigious universities can’t count on that.

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.