With a cap and gown, a flag in hand and slogans, Raúl Brito has taken to the streets of Ciudad Guayana together with his fellow professors to demand job and university improvements. But he can also be seen in the classroom, teaching and tutoring several thesis students.
By La Patilla – Pableysa Ostos
Nov 23, 2022
Prof. Brito is the President of the Association of Professors of the National Experimental University of Guayana (UNEG) in Bolívar State, and once again he raises his voice to give a detailed description of what the university system is experiencing and, above all, the professors, the workers and administrative staff, who are still struggling ahead despite all the difficulties.
One of the first announcements he offered was that the “APUNEG” office (Professor’s Association of Guayana’ Experimental University) is again active. “Because for two years doors were closed and one year where union dues were seized. The government continues to attack university students, unions, professional unions, when it takes away union dues.”
“When the university administration was handed over to the Patria System, it practically handed over university autonomy and is handing over what the employees’ savings. This represents 10% of the full salary that is deducted from the every professor’s salary, plus the other 10% provided by the employer, that is, the national government is taking away 20% of the full salary from all university professors in Venezuela. If there are 200,000 university workers in Venezuela, the Patria System is taking away that fraction of their salary and they are also devaluing it,” Mr. Brito explained.
He specified that in their case, they have 7 months of withheld the union dues, which motivated them to make a decision in the assembly. “We decided that the Government should not continue stealing from us. They can’t keep robbing us anymore. In July they owed us 40,000 bolivars, which was about 9,000 dollars. Right now, that same figure does not even reach 4,000 dollars (U.S.): the currency is being devalued.”
It was the teachers themselves who decided to make their contribution directly to the union, to recover APUNEG’s office, as well as other matters to attend to in those facilities. But these resources are still not enough to, for example, repair the association’s vehicle, which has been parked in the university parking lot for several months.
“We cannot repair it, because they have withheld its maintenance fee, but despite all this, this union has not stopped fighting, we have not stopped taking to the streets, denouncing that the Venezuelan university is in crisis, that the Venezuelan university is in intensive care,” highlighted Brito.
When asked why universities are in such deplorable conditions, the unionist without hesitation described that it has not been easy, nor “overnight” that higher education institutions have reached the state in which they are currently. There are several factors that have led to this scenario.
“It is very easy, they took away piecemeal the budget for the dining room, for transportation, for scholarships, for operations, there is no money to recover a video stream service, there is no money for research centers and in the case of our university (UNEG), which has 13 research centers, nobody investigates, and if they want to they can’t, because they don’t have the resources. There are no resources to pay for the intensive courses, there were none to pay for last year’s and this year’s was not paid either,” he explained.
Reinvent yourself to survive
The UNEG teachers’ union, located in the south of the country, admits that by the end of November, some 300 young people graduated from the university. But they admit that those students did not graduate thanks to a free education. “They graduated with the hunger of college workers. We, the university community, are starving to keep the university open.”
“We maintain ourselves by tutoring degree theses, being tutors for internships, giving classes at the university and we will continue to be present here. There is a group of workers supporting the teachers’ association, allocating their own resources, but even so, it is uphill for us to visit the university campuses that operate in the rest of the state,” Brito states.
Currently at UNEG there are about 600 professors, about 500 employees and 100 workers, a staff between teachers and workers that exceeds all 1,500 workers between active and retired. With hope, they recognize that there is a student body that is recovering. This is attributed to the return of face-to-face classes.
But even so, they do not even reach 6,000 students among all the venues that exist in the Bolívar State. By the year 2010, the university had 22,000 students, and it also had twice as many professors, twice as many employees, twice as many workers, but many have left after an economic crisis that has engulfed many Venezuelan homes.
They also denounced that their greatest discontent is the starvation wages. “A university professor who earns the most here at UNEG, is paid only 545.00 bolivars, that is, about 58 U.S. dollars according to the rate of the Central Bank of Venezuela. The rector of this university, the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and Universidad de los Andes (ULA), receives a basic salary of 545.00 bolivars. Of course, it increases a little with the rector’s premium, but it is still a starvation salary,” he points out.
As stated by Professor Brito in 1999, university professors earned about 2,000 (U.S.) dollars a month, “but what did the government do by applying socialism: it took from those who earn more and gave those who do not work bonuses of 60 bolivars and 80 bolivars. And those of us who are in the Patria System, we don’t receive these bonuses, we don’t want them either, we want wages worthy of earning. From about 2,000 dollars we went on to earn 30, 40, 50 dollars. So, the difference of 1,950 dollars they set out to distribute in gifts.”
“The revolution distributes what is not theirs, it does not believe in merit, only in the one that applauds the most, pulls rope (boot licker), sees that they appoint people who know nothing about any position, but they do it because they only carry a “red flag” (revolution symbol). They are like vultures that eat the worst of the worst,” criticized the union member.
There Seems To Be No Hope
The university crisis seems to not see a light at the end of the tunnel. And with the passing of time, it only seems to worsen. The professors indicated that they were unaware of the university’s budget.
“But we do know that there is a policy for the university to be a productive partner, which means that it must generate its own resources, but how does a public university that cannot increase the registration fee, because here it is 5 or 11 bolivars, but the university charges the graduating student $30 to give the degree. You can charge that to deliver the diploma, but not 2 dollars or 3 dollars to the student to register and thus repair the classrooms, the air conditioning,” he lamented.
After several months closed, the UNEG headquarters, located on Avenida Atlántico in Puerto Ordaz, continues without adequate conditions. They denounced that the library is not going to open its doors, because it is contaminated. Added to this is the problem of security and, finally, transportation. “If you are going to include 1,000 students, how do they get around if there is no university transportation and private transportation is too expensive.”
“We want the university to work and we are here because we love it and feel for it, but it is not the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago. The Venezuelan university is on its way to the cemetery, because they practically took away all its resources. An example of this is that the vacation bonus is not even contemplated in next year’s budget. This year it was not contemplated and we even had to go out to protests. Nor do they want to discuss the collective contract with the real union leaders,” added Mr. Brito.
Finally, Professor Brito warned: “There is no budget for the university. What do you expect? The light of Guyana is going out, and it is kept alive, not by the nefarious directive, but by these teachers who still have the willingness and love to come to teach. In my personal case, I have never stopped teaching at this university, of the graduates right now, ten were my thesis students. I put in all my effort, and it’s not just going out to protest, it’s demonstrating in the classroom. Even with the intimidation to which we are constantly subjected, they will not silence us.”