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Video by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-08-05

Hernan Castillo, author of a book linking Hugo Chavez to the FARC rebel group, is one of a number of Venezuelan thinkers leaving a hostile country they feel now resembles a police state for fear of persecution for their political views.

For most, it's summer break at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela. But not for political science professor Hernan Castillo, who is stuck in his office answering emails and getting ready for the upcoming release of a book about supposed links between Hugo Chavez and FARC rebels. Hernan Castillo calls his book a "little bomb" and he's aware it may bring problems.

"I've never received any overt threats - not yet at least," says Castillo. "But the president's talk of violence and aggression, of persecution and hate has caused the people of Venezuela to live in paranoia. People feel terrified, persecuted. We will always fear that our telephone conversations are tapped and our cell phones and computers controlled."

Hernan Castillo has been teaching political science for almost 20 years. He has collaborated on close to ten books that deal with defence and security. He has built a solid reputation, just like Simon Bolivar University, which is among Venezuela's leading educational institutions. This state university has maintained a degree of independence to this day.


But the government has recently made cuts to the university's budget -- to the benefit of other less elite institutions. Simon Bolivar University was the venue of recent anti-Chavez marches. Some students, marked for their ideology, foresee problems in the future. It is rumoured that blacklists may keep them from getting jobs. Many people like Castillo are considering exile.


"Of course there's a bad feeling; in the sense that an entire part of the population isn't being heard," says Alejandro Golar, student and representative of Simon Bolivar University student union. "On the other side, there's a more politically radicalised group that supports the government and simply denies the existence of the former group, which it calls the 'oligarchy.' However, there are many common citizens who don't agree with the government's policies."

Hernan Castillo can see the university grounds from his home. His life is in a small and calm tropical area, far from the bustling city of Caracas. But he may move to Puerto Rico before the end of the year. His suitcase is packed and is sitting ready near his bed. His wife Pilar has prepared for the worst.

"You know, the idea of packing your suitcase, and such…" she says. "Well, the suitcase is packed. We won't delay for a moment. Now, if they let us be, then we'll continue to work normally and we'll keep fighting here."

In Venezuela there are more and more people like Hernan Castillo - people who want to leave a country they no longer recognise. For them, the land of immigration and possibility has turned into a long tunnel. Venezuela, to them, is a cold and hostile country - a country that is closing in on itself.

Date created : 2009-08-05