Wednesday, August 04, 2004

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From our friends at
"President booed at UASD
Yesterday was not a good day for President Hipolito Mejia, who attempted to inaugurate a library at the UASD (Autonomous University of Santo Domingo). Instead of cheers, the outgoing statesman was met with boisterous demonstrations by students and faculty, outraged that the RD$281-million facility was being unveiled in an unfinished state, and, worse yet, not having any books. President Mejia arrived with former legal advisor Guido Gomez Mazara, director of the Supervisory Office of Engineering of the Presidency Hernani Salazar, Public Works Minister Miguel Vargas Maldonado and Secretary of the Presidency Sergio Grullon and was received with loud “boos” by students lining up in front of the library to be inaugurated.
The students threatened to halt the inauguration ceremony going on inside the building, according to Hoy and El Caribe. President Mejia cut short his normal “walk-through” of the new installation and was hustled out the back entrance of the building into a vehicle that was not his usual transport and had been sent to the UASD given the heated situation. Under a hail of rocks, with some hitting the vehicles of the President entourage, the cavalcade, which included Public Works Minister Miguel Vargas Maldonado, the SUV of Sergio Grullon, the President’s brother-in-law and the Presidential press detail, beat a hasty retreat. The infuriated students also also dismantled the bronze plaque to commemorate the construction.
During the ceremony, members of the President’s security team were kept informed of the activities going on outside. At one point, it appeared that a small group of students at the main doorway faced off with SWAT teams, as they yelled slogans such as “Without any books, there’ll be no inauguration!” Some witnesses said that a plain-clothes officer struck a student, which served to fire up the demonstrators further. The military escort of the President reportedly fired shots into the air in an effort to disperse the gathering, as garbage cans burned and the outraged students expressed their outrage. News reports say that the library had almost been completed in the Fernandez administration (1996-2000), which at the end did not inaugurate it because of the lack of books.
The UASD board said that, as a disciplinary measure, the university had suspended engineering professor Socrates Barinas Sone and seven students. Two students were expelled. A man named Alberto Cardenas is to be formally charged for committing acts of violence against the President. El Caribe and Hoy newspaper published editorials criticizing the aggressive manner in which the students conducted their protest. "There must always be space for civilized protests, even in the presence of the President of the Republic. But the use of impulsive methods to frustrate an activity and jeopardize the physical integrity of the President, we condemn completely," said one editorialist.
The Listin Diario's Ana Mitila Lora had an explanation for the stone-throwing at the UASD: "People can't take any more." She continued to say: "It is not just that they can't sleep at night because of the heat and the mosquitoes, but because there is no water to take a bath, no electricity to move a fan. It is not just that there is no medicine in the hospitals or that people can't make ends meet, that pharmacy bills are in the stratosphere, that public transport is scarce, that the gas tank is empty and people are tired of lining up… It is the indifference with which the President is guiding these long transition days. His broken answers to the crisis is what incites the anger amongst citizens."
Diario Libre editorial deemed the protest to repudiate the inauguration of the library as a “unacademic answer to an unnecessary political event.”