Friday, February 15, 2008

Peruvian Media Portrays New Student Leaders as Terrorists

In this interview, student leader Jhon Ochoa describes how students rebuilt a movement after the dictatorship of Fujimori, and explains that student activists are not terrorists as they have been portrayed by the media and the administration of La Cantuta University.

The other goal of the right-wing government of the APRA (Aprista party), besides completing the privatization of the Public University, is to finish off the student movement, because it promotes the organization of guilds, the political struggle and the battle of ideas against the neoliberal state. For this reason, the "Alanist" (For president Alan Gracia) regime in coordination with his most obliging media of disinformation: Caretas magazine, launched a campaign against the Federation of Students of the Nacional La Cantuta University of Education (FEUNE, Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad Nacional de Educación - La Cantuta), professors, and workers of this collage, accusing them of belonging to the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and of being a part of a conspiracy against democracy, that is doing the groundwork to "make the country fly into a million pieces." The grandiloquent title of the report is "Path in the Cantuta: Are They Playing With Fire Again?" (Sendero en La Cantuta: ¿De Nuevo Juegan con Fuego?). But, as this magazine, directed by Enrique Zileri Gibson (a close friend of Alan García), which doesn’t exceed three thousand copies sold in kiosks nationally, is accustomed to use lies and scandal to augment sales and/or please its friends, we went to The Cantuta University, to get the FEUNE students’ version, and we found a different story.

At ten in the morning, the bus that brought us from the center of Lima – after an hour-long trip – left us in the detour toward the La Cantuta University in the Central Highway, district of Chosica. There we got into a moto-taxi. A cumbia hit rattled our eardrums, and the vehicle in which we traveled shook itself to every beat thanks to the road full of zigzagging holes. Then we crossed a narrow bridge over the Rímac River, continued dodging the potholes that had now multiplied themselves, we went through a neighborhood of residential houses. The branches of thick trees on both sides of the road made a kind of tunnel, we left them behind and arrived at the combative Cantuta.

The campus is located in a ravine between the banks of the Rímac River and large hills, that, meters higher, converge with the Andes Mountain Range. La Cantuta is the name of a common flower that grows in the zone and which gave the unofficial name to this Alma Mater of Peruvian education. The origin of the National University of Education, Enrique Guzmán y Valle (La Cantuta) refers to July 6, 1822, when the Liberator Mr. José de San Martín, by supreme decree, created the first Normal School of Teachers, a date which gave way to the celebration of Teachers’ Day in Peru. In 1967, it was converted by law into the Enrique Guzmán y Valle National University of Education (UNE, Universidad Nacional de Educación Enrique Guzmán y Valle). On February 20, 1977, during the military dictatorship of Francisco Morales Bermúdez, the UNE was recessed, paralyzing its academia activities. In May of 1991, after a frustrated visit of Alberto Fujimori, who was expulsed by the students, the campus was occupied by a taskforce of the Peruvian Army and was established as a military base. In 1995, the UNE was newly interfered with by Fujimorism, which installed a Reorganizing Committee.

At the main entrance to La Cantuta University we met with Jhon Ochoa, president of the FEUNE and student leader, and with him we went to the office of the Federated Center of Social Sciences. On the way, Jhon was greeted by university employees who make up the One Union of Workers of the Nacional University of Education (SUTUNE, Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional de Educación), who prepare a community meal, to strengthen the protest against the university authorities, who are trying, through services, to make working conditions even more precarious.

We arrive at the Federated Center, in the window of which is a poster with the face of Ollanta Humala announcing a presentation that the ex-presidential candidate will make in the main auditorium of the university. This activity was organized by the trotskyist leaning All Bloods Collective (Colectivo Todas las Sangres), which was also accused of being part of this terrorist "conspiracy" against democracy. In the main office, we meet two students for the FEUNE and take a look at the widest wall across from us, where a modest altar is made out of photos forming a triangle. The photos are of the Martyrs of la Cantuta with the slogan "Heroes of the People." Nine students and a professor were assassinated by the Colina paramilitary group in 1992 during the Fujimori dictatorship. Those students, in the same way as today, were accused of being terrorists. Hopefully that isn’t an omen of what will come to pass in the Aprista totalitarianism of our days.

To carry out our interview, we decide to move to the mausoleum in homage to the Martyrs of Cantuta which is on the other side of campus. There with the silence of the Apus (hills) as witnesses, we looked at the monument to the victims of state genocide. Ochoa showed us a commemorative plaque from the FEUNE, where the controversial phrase "Serve the people with all your heart," is written. We all laughed, wondering what the editors of Caretas would have written if they had found out about this Maoist slogan. Like a visual paradox, next to the mausoleum, a structure like the chapel of a church rises up where the barracks of Fujimori’s army were. It has a door with bars that leads to a cellar, which in times of Fujimorism served for torturing students, professors and workers accused of being subversives. Seated in the garden with a shivering silence, like our cold fists, which characterizes this part of the university, we began our interview.

Yásser Gómez: What is your version of your statements that Caretas magazine published about political violence?

Jhon Ochoa: We here are still firm about the necessity of being able to clarify and propose our points of view, in spite of the fact that some medias of disinformation for years now have been defending particular interests and don’t report what you really say. We told the same to the representatives of Caretas before we gave them the interview. As we all know, unfortunately they serve an intention or a political point of view and inside the scheme of the stigmatization of our university, so we’ve been used.

They visited the university October 5 and proposed to do an interview with us with the specific theme of the extradition of Fujimori, given that that’s one of the things we are living through at the level of national politics and all the consequences that the dictatorship has generated for our university. Almost all the interview was about that theme. Unfortunately, in Caretas absolutely nothing came out about all the consequences created by a dictatorship as perverse as the one we lived through. But even if, with our intentions and directions that are convenient for their interests, not even the things that we declared were published in a corresponding way.

For example, about whether we believed or not in armed struggle, we as a University Federation organized a discussion group about the intensification of political violence in the country because we consider that as students and future professionals it’s our duty to know about the facts, which we can’t evade or cover up, because they are historical events that have happened. The Truth Commission says it this way, too. So, almost at the end of the interview, the Caretas guys started to ask some tendentious questions, and they asked me what I believed about armed struggle. And, as it was close to October 8th, when [Che] Guevara’s assassination is commemorated, I answered them with an affirmation that the Argentine guerilla did so in past years, that he believed in armed struggle as the only way to liberate the oppressed peoples of the world. I added that we won’t wait for similar situations to occur in the country to start to concern ourselves with the things that are happening in our country, about these enormous divide that exists, like the abysmal difference between one class and another.

Later we found out what Caretas published: "Ochoa says he believes in armed struggle as the only way to liberate the oppressed peoples of the world" with an obviously marked, tendentious intention, which really infuriates us.

YG: You had a conversation about various themes, and Caretas interpreted it wrongly . . .

JO: Together with another group of students, we held a discussion group about the intensification of political violence in the country, the cases of the extradition of Fujimori, the Cantuta and the armed struggle, or civil wars that have occurred in Peru and the world, as university students we have the duty of being able to carry out the corresponding studies, from diverse points of view. This was the idea of the group, which Caretas, with tendentious intentions, unveiled as if we were defending armed struggle in an irresponsible way.

Our university has a lot of problems with infrastructure: budget, laboratories, as I told you in the mausoleum dedicated to the victims of the Colinas paramilitary group, the damage that the dictatorship caused was been so great that there is an immense military barracks where millions of soles [Peruvian currency] were spent, while we don’t even have the necessary functional classrooms. I’m in the college of sociology, which is terribly abandoned because our classrooms are in a pavilion that was built for residences, and many students receive classes in spaces that were made for bathrooms. So, if Caretas or any other media cared about our country, they would frame a story about that, where one can really delve into the root problems, not in smoke screens.

It’s incredible the way [authorities] apply the laws only when it’s convenient to them. We are supported – even by the Fujimori Constitution – that education must be free at all levels. But, if in this moment all of us students weren’t in this apathy that the dictatorship has left us in, we would already have pressed charges against the State, because the State owes us – I have paid for the five years of my degree and the state is in debt to me as a student. And if there is a debt to me, there is a debt to all students of public universities because the responsibility of the State is precisely to give us an education, not as a service but as a right that we have as human beings.

YG: How was the FEUNE reconstituted?

JO: When we entered the university in the year 2001, and I have studied six years because I need to work to be a professional. It’s natural that in a country where there aren’t the necessary economic means, sometimes we have to study longer, and if there’s no one providing for us, there’s all the more reason. And moreover, if we need to forge and construct the union in our university.

I’m in the class 2001-II and we found a university that, well, to call it a university was out of tradition and habit, but in terms of reality it was a scholarized space with a notoriously depoliticized student body, with the intention that one goes to the university to study and not to be political, and those people who said this, those who were making this political policy – it was incredible. They keep saying the same thing even now.

We found our Federated Centers destroyed. Many students didn’t even know about the Federated Center, it was incredible, we didn’t have Student Centers –before [the dictatorship] our Federated Centers were very compact – every center of every specialty had its own library, for example, and during the dictatorship the books were stolen and burned. We didn’t have a Student Federation, so we focused on the need to reconstruct our student organizations, which obviously wasn’t simple work.

So in December of 2003, we were able to reconstruct the first Federated Center of the entire university, the Social Sciences one, and then we started to reconstruct the unions of other colleges, and in this effort, last year, after various important advances in general assemblies, we were able to reconstruct our University Federation, which obviously has had lots of problems. From the beginning the administration itself has aimed to destabilize us, to not permit us to rebuild, seen danger in this effort for the students to organize themselves, and intended to not recognize it as a union organization.

YG: Tell us about the struggles that have strengthened the student movement since 2001.

JO: I have a very particular reading of this. Within the process of this story, you can see events like milestones that allowed certain shake-ups, when a few structures were established. In this framework, after the dictatorship, it’s true there were small struggles and attempts by some students, not organized, but as individuals, because our movement hasn’t been silenced, but there was an extreme disorganization. So the class of 2001-II, which I belong to, we entered in August, when there was an irregularity on the part of the university administration about the application of an admissions leaflet, which allowed us, even as applicants, to take over the university, and this was done after many years because during the dictatorship nobody could protest.

At that time the Reorganizing Committee of the National University of Education (CORUNE, Comisión Reorganizadora de la Universidad Nacional de Educación), imposed by Fujimori, did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted in the university according to the dictatorship. And anyone who dared to demand a simple right was simply carried off and condemned even sometimes by faceless judges. With this repressive history, we took over the university in August of 2001 for three days. This was the event that marked the beginning of a new generation, to call it that, that tried to shake off this internal inheritance of fear, as we were freshmen we hadn’t lived under the government of the CORUNE and the university found us after the marches of the 90s like the Cuatro Suyos march, so it found a youth sick of being shut up and all that. The take-over woke up a lot of worry in the students who were in later years to see how applicants could do an action of this nature and that, moreover, in concrete terms, we were able to capture and make people respect the stipulations of the leaflet.

YG: What motivated you to fight in this way?

JO: We had applied and 136 of us entered, no more, when in this leaflet a greater number was stipulated, they didn’t apply it correctly, and when we complained, it generated a contradiction because the leaflet says that once the admitted students were published, there was no going back. So we shut ourselves in, so as 400 students we slept in the cafeteria those three days and the day that we closed the university Panamericana Television came and when they transmitted almost directly we did the take-over of the university with our little tables blocking the main entrance and shouting "We want to study!"

It was a transcendental act. After that, November 6, 2001 the university wanted to diversify with other careers like law, medicine or engineering. Imagine – we didn’t even have labs for education and they wanted to add departments that needed even more infrastructure. It seems like a terrible administrative irresponsibility, so the student movement saw the necessity to organize itself. Added to this new force of students we took over the university again, but the administration, seeing that it was dangerous if they didn’t stop the student movement, sent almost 100 police to retake the campus. They repressed us ferociously. We call this movement the November 6 Movement and driven by this movement, 3,500 students mobilized ourselves to the congress. We consider that those events were very important and permitted the strengthening of our union.

On to the reduction of the registration fee. At the root of this situation in 2003, we initiated the work of reconstituting our federated centers, first was the social sciences one and immediately the Technology, Pedagogy and Science were reconstituted. So then we started with the union assembles, we convoked for the first time all the delegates of the university to what we called the First Historic General Assembly of Delegates and Bases on June 25, 2004. And in this assembly we approved a motion to fight to pay 50 soles as a reduction with the projected goal to reach free education. We were paying pay 125 soles. On June 7, we mobilized at the University Council, but when the authorities realized we were going to march, they suspended the assembly, although we mobilized all the same. Even though they were there, the rector and the vice-rectors didn’t want to meet us, so we brought logs from the university campus and decided to knock down that door of the Rector’s Office. Since then they have accused us of being violentists and even terrorists. Even though tearing down the door did help to make them meet with us and won the reduction in the registration fee to 50 soles that day at almost 2 in the morning. So, this unfortunately indicates to us the stubbornness, the bureaucracy that still rules in our university, the yes-men with their excessive salaries and bribes that are part of the legalized corruption.

From there the student movement consolidated itself, except for the attitude of the current rector, Juan Tutuy, who is a very political subject, who has wanted to declare himself to the press as a friend of the workers and who says about us that "There is a small sector against him." We do not agree with the way he governs, and his post doesn’t mean that he is in charge, rather that he is part of a front that has been historically highly corrupt. You can’t talk about having a new management in politics when it’s the same front that’s governed since 2001. This front put up rectors like Lidia Cruz, Solís, who was another little dictator of the university, and now they put up Tutuy, who for his election as rector planned to buy the consciences of all the students because he paid his assemblyists, giving them posts and jobs, the things that everyone knows about in our bureaucracy and we had the minority in the University Assembly.

As the rector Juan Tutuy wanted his election to have an overwhelming support, without any chance of problems, without anyone saying anything. So they came more than once to offer us things, they were able to buy three members of our third, who we denounced publicly, because we consider that we are with the students with all our limitations. And in this opportunity the assembly of the election of the rector, it wasn’t in this campus, rather they did in the Post-Graduate School in La Molina. Tutuy, like the politician he is, didn’t go directly, but rather sent his people there.

After that situation the rector tried to have me expelled (2006) with the general secretary of the Federated Center of Social Sciences, because we denounced the bribes, and for that in the Department Board of Social Sciences they approved a motion to expel us. In response to that the students created a solidarity movement, we took over the university and early the next morning they sent some 80 thugs who entered the university through the hills. That was the direct responsibility of the ex-vice-rector of administration, Antonio Díaz Sacedo, and directly indicates an attempt to kill me and kick us out without anyone finding out.

We were able to fight off the thugs until 7 AM, at which time the rest of the students arrived. We chased them and were able to catch two of the delinquents. With about 3,000 students we paraded the thugs around the streets of Chosica, with signs on their chests saying "We’re Tutuy’s Thugs." But when we got to the police station they took them like they hadn’t done anything. That’s why Tutuy declared to the press that he wasn’t facing the teachers, workers or students, but the Metropolitan Committee of the Shining Path, unionizing ourselves very irresponsibly.

In La Cantuta there is an officialism that governs, from our perspective, in a totalitarian way. Presently they want to impose a service and we the students are against this, because we consider it a part of the politics of privatization, of worker exploitation, of taking away their rights and going against job security. Presently there is a contest for non-personal services. For this reason it seems to us to be a form contrary to that preached by Mr. Tutuy, and facing this, we are against it. So because we have positions as student leaders, they accuse us of everything.

YG: What do you think about the
University law [establishing fees for students]?

JO: This law is framed in the politics of privatization that they plan to give to our education and within the universities this intention is clear. The very fact that we pay our registration fee is part of the systematic privatization of our education. And the drafts of the law presented by the congressmen and the government have this perspective. In various articles that we’ve looked over, they propose the dismembering of the student co-government and that the third convert itself into an eighth. And the fees have to do with the schools you can come from. Apart from this, what they are essentially trying to do is against the freedom of thought, the freedom of expression, that’s what the draft of the aprista law is principally contemplating. They want to eliminate even the rights we have to basic services like the student cafeteria of the transportation that rightfully belong to us. We believe we are on the side of the people, in their struggles, and we’re not fighting because we are Senderistas [members of the Shining Path] or terrorists.

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