Colombia: education protests shut down 32 universities

On Oct. 12 Colombian university students proceeded with plans announced in September to carry out an open-ended strike against proposed changes to the education system that they say will lead to privatization. A total of 32 public universities have gone on strike, according to the Broad National Student Panel (MANE), a national coordinating group, which has called for weekly demonstrations in support of the strike, including a special national mobilization at all public universities on Oct. 26.

The students say they will stay on strike until the government withdraws a proposal for amendments to Law 30, which has governed education since 1992, and agrees to talks around the student movement’s demands. The strikers are also planning discussions with professors and university workers “so that we can jointly construct the model of the university that we want,” according to Sergio Fern├índez, a spokesperson for the Colombian Student Organization (OCE). Fern├índez said a gathering in Bogot├í on Nov. 12-13 will bring together students, professors, workers and others “to construct a different proposal for higher education.” (El Universal, Cartagena, Oct. 17; Notimex, Oct. 22)

A medical student, Yan Farid Cheng Lugo, was killed by a homemade explosive device and 10 others were wounded in Cali, in the western department of Valle del Cauca, during the nationwide demonstrations that marked the first day of the strike on Oct. 12. MANE charged that the student’s death was not an accident, as the police claim. In MANE’s account, a group of unidentified people hurled the device from a bridge as some 15,000 students marched in the local protest. “We have reported and verified on repeated occasions that government agents infiltrate our actions in order to legitimize repression and the murder of students,” MANE wrote, “and for this reason we demand that the government clarify its participation in these actions that have put the student movement in mourning today.” (Prensa Latina, Oct. 13)

US GI caught smuggling coke
In other news, Colombian authorities arrested US Navy gunner’s mate Lemar Deion Burton on Oct. 12 as he attempted to leave the country at Bogot├í’s El Dorado airport; they charge that he was carrying about five kilograms of high-grade cocaine. The US Navy said Burton was based with the Navy Munitions Command at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy, and was visiting Colombia on personal leave. Burton is not part of the US military mission in Colombia, according to the US embassy, so he is not covered by the immunity agreement that protects mission members from prosecution in Colombian courts. (ABC News’ National Security blog Oct. 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 23.

See our last post on Colombia.