Venezuelan Universities Must Speak Truth to Power
No Venezuelan can ignore what our country is experiencing. We all ask ourselves, “How can we contribute to changing these painful times we are living through?”
As a former student at Venezuela’s Central University, and now a lawyer and professor, I’ve noticed a shift among students and staff: there is a need now, more than ever, to understand the country we live in, and make sure classes are not divorced from reality.
This awareness compels us to be active, to be politicians in the philosophical sense of the word, and concern ourselves with public affairs.
Regardless of whether we are pure academic scholars or teachers, or whether we’re studying at graduate or postgraduate levels, we must continue with our lines of research. This has always been our duty, but given the current situation in Venezuela it would be irresponsible to evade it.
Our obligation to act isn’t only to change the state of things, but also to not be silent accomplices
And it would be the greatest of responsibilities because there has been a constant disrespect of civil and political rights. This is a country in which, for exercising the profession of lawyer, and working for a company without being a shareholder of director, you’re accused of the crime of boycott.
Second, public institutions are held hostage, for which we need only see the latest statistics of the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Tribunal Justice, which show that an individual never obtains a sentence in their favor if litigating against the state. And finally, the leaders of the opposition are imprisoned, or those congressmen who try to do the job for which they were democratically elected are stripped of their parliamentary immunity.
But the ignorance also stretches to economic rights and freedoms, even the most important of them, because without these, there’s no material basis from which to be able to exercise other rights and freedoms.
For over a decade the state has maintained exchange controls, through which it’s monopolized the purchase and sale of foreign currency reserves. A decade ago, price controls began for a few products which are now generalized.
Laws such as the Just Price Law, the Labor Law, and the Food Security and Sovereignty Law have established measures which damage private property and economic freedom. For some years, expropriation has become the norm, and private property has long since changed from a constitutional guarantee into something with which the state can punish you for.
The grand majority of new provisions in our legal order establish that their objective is the public interest, but this only translates into ever-greater supervision and control by the regime, new legal cover for the state to act with greater discretion on putting greater burdens on individuals.
In sum, in recent years we have been witness to the transformation of the juridical fabric of out country. Now it disregards individual rights and freedoms, and broadens, in an unjustified and arbitrary way, the powers of the state. In the face of this, as universities and as citizens we have the duty to denounce these attacks.
But moreover, our obligation to act isn’t only to change the state of things, but also to not be silent accomplices. The weakening of our institutions is only contributed to by failure to act, by conforming, by saying “I didn’t sign, I didn’t decide this.”
Our duty requires greater dimensions if we consider that, by our omission, we’re participating in what’s happening.
Take what Hannah Arendt tells us about the banality of evil in her analysis of Adolf Eichmann, intellectual author of the machinery employed for the genocide of the Jews during World War II.
He wasn’t, in Arendt’s view, a monster that hated Jews. In fact, once he declared that he’d had Jewish friends. He was simply a bureaucrat, an operator within a system based on acts of extermination. The “banality of evil” means that some individuals just adapt to the rules of the system to which they belong, without reflecting on their actions or consequences.
Thus our obligations acquire greater dimensions if we consider that, by our omission, we’re participating and complicit in what’s going on.
I don’t want to live in a “condemned society,” as Ayn Rand describes in Atlas Shrugged:
“When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion — when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing — when you see money flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors — when you see that men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you — when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice — you may know that your society is doomed.”
We have a commitment for life. When I entered university, I decided — knowingly or not, but today more convinced of it than ever — that I wanted to live free. But as Thomas Mann said, freedom isn’t free — it must be fought for, and I have taken up the challenge of fighting as a professional, a university professor, and a citizen.
Andrea Rondón García has a PhD in Law from the the Central University of Venezuela and teaches at the Andrés Bello Catholic University and the Metropolitan University in Caracas. She is a member of CEDICE’s Academic Committee. Follow her: @arondon75.