Days after having been brutally beaten up by the Chávez regime agents, student leader Lorent Saleh explained why Venezuelan youths have no other option but to take to the streets to demand the restoration of the Constitution, even when they are knowingly risking their lives.
“We’ve had 14 years of the same and every time our future gets more blurry. We cannot allow them to continue to make fun of us,” said Saleh in an interview via Skype, during which he showed great difficulty speaking.
His face looked deformed, his lips swollen. The blows to his face had weakened his upper gum so much that he felt pain with every word.
Even so, Saleh said that he and his comrades are ready to continue to protest the installation of an “illegitimate” regime in Venezuela.
“We’re getting ready to strengthen the protests even more. We’re getting ready to go national. The government knows this, which is why it is acting the way it is,” he said.
There are hundreds of youths like Saleh who have initiated journeys of protests to express their discontent over the installation of a Chávez government not headed by President Hugo Chávez, which is seen by the opposition as an aberration of the country’s laws orchestrated from Havana.
The almost-daily demonstrations by students of some of the main schools in the country seek to alert the international community of the illegitimacy of the government presided by Vice President Nicolás Maduro on behalf of Chávez, whose real medical condition is unknown to Venezuelans.
Representatives of the University of Carabobo expressed their solidarity Wednesday with the hunger strike initiated by two young students before the building that houses the Organization of American States demanding the appointment of an independent medical board to travel to Cuba and evaluate the health conditions of the president.
That demonstration was going on while another group of students of the Central University of Venezuela gathered before the Supreme Court to protest the court’s blessing of the regime headed by Maduro.
"That ruling is nothing more than legitimizing a de facto government,” said the student Francisco Matheus. “Not having a president to take his oath, we find ourselves with a de facto government that today is already naming officials.”
Chávez, who suffers from an aggressive cancer, traveled to Havana on Dec. 9 to have new surgery and he has not been seen in public since then.
The Venezuelan government insists that the president is in a full process of recovery, though a series of media versions say that Chávez faces a very delicate medical situation and that his cancer is in terminal stage.
The beginning of a new Chávez term, inaugurated last Thursday in a strange ceremony in which Maduro took the oath of hundreds of Chávez followers, is questioned by some of the main leaders of the opposition who reject the Supreme Court’s ruling ratifying the measure.
The ruling of the court — which is considered by the opposition as an appendix of the Chávez regime — is one of the central issues of the students’ protests during the last two days.
Yet the demonstrations are being brutally repressed by law-enforcement agents.
About 11 students who took part in a protest at the University of the Andes (ULA) at the end of last week were wounded after National Guard agents shot them with pellets.
University officials said that the students were repressed within the school campus, which is being denied by Venezuelan authorities.
In the case of Saleh, on Thursday the youth leader tried to talk to law-enforcement agents to explain that the demonstration in which he was taking part was a peaceful one.
“When he got closer to them they began to beat us and one of the blows made me fall; when I was on the ground they were all over me,” the young student said.
The attacks did not end there. Saleh said his family received constant telephone threats.
On Tuesday, officials from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service confiscated his passport when Saleh was about to travel to Costa Rica to denounce the maltreatment of the students before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
After banning him from leaving the country, the agents tried to detain him and take him away, but the presence of the media interrupted their efforts.
“They take this type of action to intimidate others,” he said.
Yet, for now, Saleh’s fighting spirit does not seem to have been weakened. He said that the student sector plans to continue protesting until a change takes place in the nation.
“We cannot acknowledge this regime. We cannot acknowledge what is happening and so the call is to protest in order to reinstate constitutional continuity in Venezuela,” Saleh said.
“We didn’t even vote for Chávez. We did not participate in the mistakes of the Fourth Republic (as the Chávez regime calls the system of government existing in Venezuela before it was supplanted by Chávez), but it has fallen unto us to assume all of this and we will assume it,” he said.
This article was complemented by El Nuevo Herald’s wire services.