On November 14, 2019, Venezuelan security forces reportedly shot tear gas and pepper spray at university students protesting in Caracas.
Sources indicate that the students were protesting against the President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, decrying dire economic and social conditions and policies that threaten the autonomy of Venezuela’s universities. Earlier in the day, students held an assembly with opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who urged students to mobilize and join a national march on November 16.
Following the rally, students began to march from the Central University of Venezuela (UVC) to Plaza Venezuela, a major urban square. Hundreds of Bolivarian National Police (PNB) officers dressed in riot gear and Bolivian National Guard (GNB) soldiers, however, used shields to block the UVC’s Tamanaco exit and prevented students from continuing their march. Protestors attempted to speak with the officers and some handed them white roses, apparently intended to show their peaceful intentions. Students then sang the national anthem and held a minute of silence to recognize the memory of protestors killed in past demonstrations.
Tensions quickly escalated as students continued to demand passage and press against security forces blocking them. Clashes then broke out when security forces shot tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd in order to disperse the protesters.
Police and students reportedly clashed for roughly an hour and a half, with students responding to the tear gas and pepper spray by throwing stones, broken bottles and other debris in return. Reports do not indicate how many students were injured as a result of the clashes.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by state authorities’ use of force in an effort to restrict nonviolent student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Venezuela is a party. While state authorities have a right to maintain security and order, they also have an obligation to respect university autonomy and refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering with the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Violent force intended to restrict student expression undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society in general.