The UCV in ruins, mirror of a country that is dying

/ Photo: Courtesy (Shutterstock via The New York Times)

Twenty years after its declaration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (in December 2000), the University City of Caracas, the main campus of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), is going through its worst moment. This paradigm of art, urbanism and architecture is on its way to becoming a ruin.

This is indicated by an opinion article published in the New York Times in Spanish, signed by the Venezuelan architect Federico Vegas, who highlights that the decadence that is brewing in one of the most important spiritual and intellectual symbols of Venezuela seems a reflection of the profound political, economic and social crisis the country is going through.

Just eight months ago, the most important and neuralgic section of the network of covered corridors that connect the different faculties of the University City was fractured due to lack of maintenance. The lack of cleanliness in the roof drains and the corrugated roof dug a huge pit whose weight caused the columns to collapse.

Then, it became resoundingly evident that the University City of the UCV is dying and its agony can go unnoticed in a country where so much perishes and so little is born.

Country devastated, university in decline

Just as Venezuela is devastated by laziness or overwhelming corruption, with an oil production plummeting, which is sinking in a scandalous way the hyperinflationary and dollarized economy, the UCV shows the gradual degradation and destruction of the Venezuelan educational system, with a desertion in the stage average of 50% in 2020 due to the exodus of more than five million Venezuelans and the pandemic, and 95% of deteriorated schools, the loss of almost half of the teachers since 2015 and the deepening deficits in educational quality , according to experts.

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Vegas emphasizes that, “in the last decade, the inconceivable has taken shape: a University City that begins to become a kind of archaeological ruin. What used to be slow begins to rush. Time in Venezuela has begun to pass in reverse. History flows backwards, like a current that weakens, puzzles and disintegrates us. Our future seems to exist only in the works of a fading past ”.

Dismantled vehicle on the university campus / Photo: Courtesy (Shutterstock via The New York Times)

There is nothing by chance

It also highlights that this disintegration is not accidental: “The Central University of Venezuela was always at the forefront of new visions and opposed to authoritarianism throughout the 20th century.” During his tenure, Hugo Chávez sought to bend her by denying her essential economic resources for her survival, which triggered, in 2007, a series of protests by university students – from public and private institutions – against the government’s authoritarian measures. Chávez’s supporters were never able to win in the internal elections and, now, from the perspective of the government of Nicolás Maduro, the UCV simply does not exist.

“There is no repression more hypocritical than laziness and suffocation”, in a government “whose notion of maintenance is to keep culture under the tombstone of absolute abandonment, as is evident in the national museum system”, indicates the author.

Fractured spirit

The truth is that the University City, conceived and designed by a world renowned and influential Carlos Raúl Villanueva, with murals, mosaics, stained glass windows and sculptures, ramps, canopies, umbracles and patios, with its famous Aula Magna, colorful and illuminated concert hall With Alexander Calder’s grandiose acoustic clouds, today she is remembered by depressing images of a fractured hallway, or an income of five dollars a month for a full-time professor at the Faculty of Architecture, a figure that is difficult to believe and assimilate.

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“It takes a deep passion as an educator to undergo such humiliation. These events illustrate a strategy that Maduro’s Chavista government shamelessly wields: ‘Morality and lights are our last needs.’ Just the reverse of Simón Bolívar’s most revered phrase (‘Morality and lights are our first needs’) ”.

Other bitter details

Vegas also adds other details: classrooms emptied of students and teachers, abandoned to destitution and robbery, looted of their works of art. And the sad thing is that “the UCV is not an isolated case: The University of the East (UDO), for example, has been subjected to a process of constant decline that includes from the usual budget suffocation to blatant acts of vandalism.”

The New York Times: UCV in ruins, mirror of a dying country
A field mounted with a basketball backboard without its respective hoop, one of the many vandalized sports facilities / Photo: Courtesy (Shutterstock via The New York Times)

If in 2000 the Unesco declaration was a source of pride and celebration, twenty-one years later this same declaration must become an instrument of guidance and survival. Unesco’s task cannot be limited to weighing the works of the past; its main task is to integrate them into living culture and civilization in the present. Unesco should draw attention to the current agony of our University City in the 21st century with the same vigor and the same relevance that it once celebrated “an example of coherent realization of the artistic, architectural and urban ideals of the early 20th century” .

** Fernando Vegas, in addition to being an architect, is a writer, his most recent novel is entitled Los años sin trial.

Read the article published in The New York Times.

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