On 23 October, Colombia’s National Federation of Education Workers (Fecode) began a national strike in defence of public universities. The latest strike is part of a wave of protests that are rocking the new right-wing administration of Iván Duque, which look unlikely to end any time soon.
According to students gathered in Bogotá’s historic Plaza de Bolívar (Bolívar Square), the lack of funding in public universities is critical. Here is the full list of the students’ 10 demands (in Spanish). However, they are principally demanding an additional investment of COP$4.5bn, as well as a liquidation of prior debts.
And teachers are striking in solidarity.
While the teachers’ union has won some demands from the Colombian government, it claims “education still needs resources”. The wave of strikes is now in its third week.
The Canary hit the streets to find out more.
“Do you think you’ll win?” The Canary asked a student from Colombia’s National Pedagogic University. He responded: “We won’t stop the strike until our demands are met.” And that seems to be a common sentiment.
The health of hunger striker Juan Carlos Yepes, a professor from the University of Caldas, is reportedly delicate:
Profesor Juan Carlos Yepes: Cuando el gobierno acceda a convocar una mesa de negociación donde participen todos los sectores, solo así se levantara el parohttps://t.co/NbQri7Is5A pic.twitter.com/xlvlvFgPtL #ProtecciónFinanciera
— Helena Chavista (@Helenica4F) October 24, 2018
A strike in context
The current financial crisis in universities dates back to 1992. In that year, a law passed which said funding would not increase alongside significant increases in the student population, but along with inflation instead. As a result, while universities reportedly had to increase spending by 284% between 1993 and 2016, government funding has only increased by roughly 70%.
The president of the National University of Colombia has claimed that the 2018 academic year cannot be completed without extra money. Other universities have reported that they are on the brink of bankruptcy.
Progressive feeling on the streets
Political graffiti on the walls of Colombia’s National University, the country’s largest higher education institute, shows that the current strikes are not occurring in a vacuum. This graffiti reads: “Ideology of deceit: No. Free and feminist public education: Yes.”
There is also strong anti-US sentiment within the student population. Many believe that decades of US intervention in Colombia have not been in the general population’s interest – and have contributed to widespread political violence. The following poster reads: “Yankees out. Down with the Trump-Pence regime. Confront the rightward shift with revolution, and nothing less.”
The placard below, meanwhile, reads:
If you take bread from my mouth, I’ll fight. If you deny me any form of education, I’ll fight…
Understand that, recently, the people are ‘violent’ for marching, blocking roads, and putting up posters. On the other hand, a state is not violent for disappearing people, awarding crimes, murdering comrades, violating rights, and denying us the chance to dream and educate ourselves.
As Colombia slowly emerges from Latin America’s longest civil war, the political situation remains fragile. President Duque’s right-wing administration, like its predecessors, thus far appears incapable of dealing with the systemic problems at the heart of political discontentment in Colombia. And as many are aware, political discontentment in Colombia is never too far from widespread political violence.
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Featured image via ABC News & Politics.
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