Paraguay university occupation expands amid corruption probe
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A student protest in Paraguay that has forced a university president suspected of corruption to step down entered its second week on Tuesday, with students guarding the campus around the clock, allegedly to prevent evidence tampering.
Faculty and students of the National University of Asuncion (UNA) will hold a meeting on Tuesday that is widely expected to approve the resignation of Froilan Peralta, who quit his job as UNA’s president on Friday and turned himself in to authorities on charges he dispensed professor salaries to members of his secretaries’ families.
UNA’s vice-president, Andrés Amarilla, and two department heads have also stepped down in the wake of a scandal that has engulfed one of the oldest and most prestigious academic institutions in Paraguay.
Students also called for the resignation of Philosophy Department Dean Maria Angelica Gonzalez after they allegedly discovered that documents in the philosophy building had been intentionally destroyed, newspaper Cronica reported.
The student-led protest began on September 22, with hundreds of students blocking UNA’s main administrative building and keeping faculty and university staff hostage for several hours.
Outraged students had called for Peralta’s resignation after revelations that at least one of his secretaries was being paid a professor’s salary and members of her family were receiving faculty pay checks even though they had no university qualifications or had ever taught a class.
Peralta was seeking paid leave from the university board when students laid siege to his offices last week, setting off a campus occupation that has continued to grow.
On Thursday, as the university marked its 126th anniversary, two university staff members were reportedly caught trying to sneak out documents and USB drives from the president’s offices. They were held at the building by students while police were alerted, daily Ultima Hora said.
Undergrads and sympathetic faculty have since taken over the university, setting up an around-the-clock watch amid fears evidence of corruption will be stolen or destroyed.
“At the end of every day students even clean the department buildings. They have set up a checkpoint where the entrance and exit of every person and vehicle is registered,” Ultima Hora reported.
Students have also launched a campus-wide strike.
“We’ll figure out how to make up class time later,” student leader Hugo Gomez told Cronica on Monday. “But this fight is what is important now.”