On February 14, 2017, security forces clashed violently with students protesting at the University of Los Andes (ULA), Táchira campus, which resulted in at least 40 injured and significant damage to campus property.
A group of students at ULA reportedly organized a campus demonstration to protest the alleged use of force by police one day earlier, during protests at the Universidad Católica del Táchira and the ULA Mérida campuses. Bolivarian National Guard troops (GNB) and Bolivarian National Police (PNB) on the scene reportedly launched tear gas and open fired on student protesters. Unidentified individuals reportedly used molotov cocktails to set fire to the main campus gate and security checkpoint, causing significant damage. It is unclear who caused the damage, as various eye witness accounts point to armed civilians, protesters, and security force as being responsible. At least 40 protesters were reportedly injured.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence, destruction of campus property, and the use of excessive force by security forces during a student protest. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and protecting property, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect the right to free expression. The use of excessive force in response to campus protest unnecessarily increases the risk of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Likewise, while students have the right to free expression and assembly, those rights must be exercised in a manner that is consistent with university values including non-violence and social responsibility.