Colombia: student hunger strikes protest cutbacks

As of Sept. 18 six students at the Fusagasugá campus of the University of Cundinamarca, in the central Colombian department of Cundinamarca, were continuing a hunger strike they began on Sept. 10 to demand university authorities negotiate with students on educational issues. The strikers say tuition is too high and sometimes is higher than the legal minimum wage; they are also protesting the university’s use of professors with four-month contracts rather than permanent teaching staff, and the reduction of the semester to just 16 weeks.

There were originally seven strikers; one became ill on Sept. 14 and was taken to the San Rafael Hospital. Students from the National University visited the strikers on Sept. 16 in a show of solidarity. (Adital, Brazil, Sept. 18)

Another student hunger strike began on Sept. 18 at the Amazonia University at Florencia, in the southwestern department of Caquetá. Albeiro Benítez, president of the Amazonia University Student Council (CEUNAM), sewed his lips shut to push demands for a rollback of tuition increases and for a discussion about the quality of education at the school. He was still on hunger strike as of Sept. 22, although his physical condition was weakening.

The action received support from the majority of the university’s political organizations and from Aníbal Quiroga, vice president of the Union Association of University Professors (ASPU). Quiroga said he considered the protest justified because “they raised the tuition for the students and excluded the most vulnerable,” because “the administration took away autonomy from the academic community” and because “protest is being criminalized” in a “‘dirty war’ against the sectors that struggle for the common interest.”

According to La Nación, a daily based in Neiva in the southwestern Department of Huila, the University of Cundinamarca hunger strike was also continuing as of Sept. 22. (La Nación, Sept. 22)

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