According to media reports, the Cali medical student died when he fell in the street, detonating potato bombs that he was allegedly carrying. An 18-year-old protester was also injured in the explosion.
In Bogota the 30,000-strong march began peacefully but descended into clashes with the police and vandalism as the marchers reached Plaza Bolivar. Five officers were left injured after some protesters hurled stones, bottles, sticks, paint bombs, and potato bombs at riot police.
According to the authorities, protesters destroyed five ATMs, smashed windows and covered local businesses with graffiti.
Police responded by dispersing the crowd from the plaza with tear gas.
According to Caracol Radio, a youth allegedly belonging to a group of skinheads that followed the march in Bogota was stabbed and hospitalized.
In Medellin, an estimated 10,000 students marched through the streets in a lively but mostly peaceful protest.
Masked protesters broke away from the main groups and covered shuttered buildings with scrawled slogans against the government and the reform. Riot police were splattered with paint bombs and taunted with shouts of “pigs!” but remained aloof from the crowd.
At several points protesters set off smoke bombs to loud cheers but when a handful of masked youths began hurling rocks and kicking the shutters of Exito supermarket, the crowd responded with chants of “without violence!”
In the Medellin march Liliana Ortiz, a student at the Metropolitan Institute of Technology, told Colombia Reports, “we are opposed to Law 30 [the proposed reform] because it privatizes education and universities will lose their autonomy.”
She added that humanities subjects would “vanish” from universities because they would not be able to compete for funding with subjects that would benefit private businesses.
Ortiz said “we are going to continue with the protests until Law 30 falls.”
Pedro Restrepo, a retired University of Antioquia worker, told Colombia Reports, “education is a public service, at the service of the people, we don’t want them to hand it over to private institutions, we don’t want education to become a service for businesses and financial institutions.”
He added, “the government never listens to the Colombian people.”
According to El Colombiano, the University of Antioquia and the National University were evacuated by riot police after they received information that a group of protesters were planning to force their way in to the buildings.
President Juan Manuel Santos condemned violence at the protests but said he had made contact with student movements and wanted to enter into talks.
He said, “if the students want to protest, they are welcome to but I hope they can sit down with the minister [of education], she has always been ready to listen to them. They cannot say there has been no attempt at dialogue.”
The marches marked the beginning of an indefinite strike that will see universities around the country shut down. Seven universities are already paralyzed by strikes, some already a month old.
Students and staff from over 35 universities, both public and private, are participating in the protests against the proposed educational reform, claiming it will lead to the privatization of education, reduced access to higher education for the poor and increased costs for students.
Speaking before the protests, Juan Sebastian Lopez, a member of the National Student Council, denied government claims that the reform would open up university access and increase the quality of education in Colombia. Instead, he said students would end up paying more for their education.
He explained, “we spend five years studying and 30 years paying, we want an education that is accessible for everyone, whether it is free or with very low costs.”
On Tuesday, Minister of Education Maria Fernanda Campo said in an interview with El Tiempo that “of course” the government would push ahead with reforms despite the protests.
Campo said, “[the reform] is very positive for the country, because it will let us improve quality, expand coverage, modernize the system.”
She added the students had the “legitimate right” to protest, but called on them to do so peacefully.
However, she asked the students not to strike, calling the university shut-downs “tremendously damaging.”
Campo also accused the students of lying when they said they had not been consulted over the reform.
She said, “there were 28 forums in higher education institutions where more than 4,500 students participated. We listened, we debated with them.”
Following violent clashes at previous protests, authorities have claimed the student movement has been infiltrated by guerrilla agitators from the FARC and the ELN.
Student organizations have vehemently denied the accusations. Gisell Medina from the National Federation of Students told El Colombiano, “the students have shown that we are not infiltrated by any illegal organization, we are an open citizen movement, made up of students from countries all over the country.”
The proposed reform was submitted to Congress on October 3.