by Freddy Arocha, PhD , Professor
The Oceanographic Institute of Venezuela, funding institution of the Universidad de Oriente in Cumaná, was created in 1958 and began activities in 1959. It is one of the oldest and most important center for oceanographic and marine science research, public service, and undergraduate and graduate training in the Caribbean, Latin America and the world. From the beginning, the Institute fostered relations with the main universities of the world, which allowed the arrival of researchers to reinforce the faculty with a view to conduct Graduate studies in Marine Sciences (Oceanography, Marine Biology and Fisheries). Notable regional and global scientists, such as Dr. Brian Luckhurst, Dr. Jeremy Jackson, Dr. Daniel Pauly, Dr. Fernando Cervigon, and Captain Jacques Y. Cousteau, taught and conducted research at the Oceanographic Institute. Many of the Marine Science students and scientists have conduct research with the aid of the oceanographic research vessels and shore-based laboratories.
In celebration of its 50 years, the Oceanographic Institute hosted the 62 Gulf Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI). During that meeting, there were over 300 scientists from the region that participated, and Dr. Daniel Pauly provided the keynote speech. However, in its 60th anniversary, the days of providing a higher-level education on oceanography, marine biology and fisheries, making the science accessible to the public are gone, in part due to insufficient allocation of financial resources in recent years and mostly due the vicious vandalism that the Institute has endured since the beginning of this year.
Some of the surrounding buildings of the Institute have been vandalized and stripped to their bare structure, and other buildings have been burnt down since the early days of 2019. The University authorities have requested safeguard measures from the official authorities of the State, but no action has been taken.
In May, sadly, was the Institute’s turn to be viciously vandalized and robbed of major equipment throughout its Departments (Oceanography, Fisheries Biology, and Marine Biology). Fortunately, in light of what had happened in the surrounding buildings, scientists had begun to safeguard movable equipment (optics, etc). However, it was not sufficient because over the past few weeks the Institute has been systematically stripped of its major electrical power sources (transformers, power cables, and system breakers). Once that occurred, it was then stripped and robbed of its air-conditioning equipment, freezers (where samples were stored), and office equipment (printers, copying machines), making it almost impossible to work in that environment.
The once well-known Graduate Program on Marine Science was forced to a technical shut down. The enrolled graduate students were left without an option. There isn´t one. The local and regional scientific community is probably wondering why this is happening. In all of the crises the University has endured, none included the violation and the demise of its infrastructure, and its research Institutes have never been touched in such a vicious way.
Some claim that the economic situation we are living has forced people to steal from an easy target in order to survive. Others including faculty members and graduate students, suspect that it is a well coordinated plan to strip the Institute, and the University Campus of Cumana of its capacity to teach and conduct research, and to force the displacement of its university faculty and students, so that other official entities can take over for obscure plans, claiming the abandonment of the premises. So far, some Oceanographic Institute faculty members and graduate students have stand their ground and have refused to leave the building. The Marine Biology Department, the only capable to function, is heavily impaired; the other two (Oceanography and Fisheries) are barely functioning. It is unknown for how long, maybe until their personal well-being become life-threatening.
It is important that the regional marine scientific community is aware of such destruction, and how vicious can society turn when governed by unscrupulous officials where no actions have or will be taken to safeguard the higher-education and research institution that exists in Venezuela. This outcry is a hope that the marine scientific community does not stand-by passively as this occurs.
Image 1. Main entrance of the Oceanographic Institute of Venezuela-Universidad de Oriente, Cumaná-Venezuela.
Image 2. Violation of the entrances to Departments and Laboratories. Severed power cables, robbery of main circuit breakers and internet routers. Trashing and violation of laboratories. Main office equipment were gone.
This blog content was cross-posted from the GCFINET Listserv.