Colombia: students build for national strike

An operation by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of Colombia’s National Police in Pamplona University in the northern department of Norte de Santander on Sept. 20 set off a confrontation between police and students that left four students and two police agents injured; two students were arrested. The students had started blocking the school’s main entrances on Sept. 16 to protest high tuition costs, to demand improvements in the school’s program and infrastructure, and to oppose a national education “reform” bill. The riot police reportedly used tear gas in an effort to remove the protesters, who responded with rocks and sticks.

A number of Colombian organizations denounced the police incursion. “We vehemently reject the repression of the students, the entry of the ESMAD on campuses and the criminalization of student protest, the militarization of university campuses and all repressive action against the student body,” the Iván David Ortiz Human Rights Monitoring Center wrote in response to the police operation.

Two days later, on Sept. 22, 100 or more students, some of them hooded, confronted ESMAD agents at the District University in the center of Bogotá. The police used stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas, while the protesters threw rocks and homemade grenades. Ten protesters were arrested, according to Gen. Francisco Patiño, commander of the Bogotá Metropolitan Police. Three of those arrested were minors and were turned over to their parents, but the others could face up to two years in prison, Patiño said.

Colombian students and teachers have been organizing against changes that President Juan Manuel Santos has proposed for Law 30, which has been in effect since 1992; the protesters say the new version of the law would lead to privatization of the education system. Thousands participated in a protest against Santos’ proposals on Sept. 7, and the Federation of University Students (FEU) has called for a national “consultation” on Oct. 5-6. This would be followed by a national strike on Oct. 12 on the model of the protests that have paralyzed Chilean schools for nearly four months. (Adital, Brazil, Sept. 20; Prensa Latina, Sept. 20, Sept. 24; Terra, Colombia, Sept. 22)

According to an opinion poll carried out by the Datexco firm and published by the Colombian daily El Tiempo on Sept. 23, 67.1% of Colombians support the call for a strike on Oct. 12, 30.9% oppose it, and 2.0% don’t know about it. The pollsters surveyed 700 people in 13 cities. (Notimex, Sept. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 25.

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