Students demand Chavez fund universities

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 24 (UPI) -- Venezuelan students say they will resume their hunger strike if President Hugo Chavez doesn't take visible steps to support public universities in 24 hours.

"I do not believe in empty words. I do not believe in promises," student spokesman Grey Hernandez told Venezuela's independent Globovision news channel.


The 16 college students and professors who stopped eating solid food outside the U.N. office in Caracas Feb. 23 claim Chavez is purposely depleting public universities because they encourage free thinking and freedom of expression.

They say the universities are starved of resources and professors receive exorbitantly low wages.

Higher Education Minister Yadira Cordova promised to discuss their concerns two weeks ago, they said, but they've seen nothing concrete since.

"We want the time and date when they will act," Hernandez told the network. "We give them 24 hours," after which the students promised to resume their hunger strike.

The Provea human-rights group said it counted more than three dozen hunger strikes in Venezuela so far this year, Spanish news agency EFE reported. By contrast, Venezuela had 105 hunger strikes in all of 2010 and five in 2009, Provea said.


Scores of young activists held 15 hunger strikes earlier this year to call attention to alleged human-rights abuses by government forces, EFE quoted Provea as saying.

The activists also demand Chavez allow the Washington-based Organization of American States, representing the 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere, to investigate alleged wrongful imprisonment and prosecution of political opponents.

That hunger strike, taking place as Egyptian activists ousted President Hosni Mubarak, prompted Chavez to make some concessions, including a promise to review the cases of people the protesters said were jailed because of their political opposition to Chavez, Fox News reported.

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