Colombia, Chile student protesters go continental

Colombian and Chilean students have come together in an attempt to spread their protest across Latin America.

The protesters, who in both countries are demanding their governments improve higher education, want to organize a mass demonstration across the continent on Thursday November 24.

Colombian student leaders proposed the idea after contact between the two countries’ representatives on social networking sites. The Chilean students voted to go ahead with the plan – which aims to spread protests into countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Peru – following a meeting Saturday.

Jairo Rivera, spokesman for the Colombian movement, the National Alternative Education Board, told BBC Mundo, “A continental movement in defense of education as a right is being built. Each movement has its own problems but we have common goals. It is very important that young people are political actors in Latin America.”

Patricio Contreras, the Chilean student representative, said students throughout the region had sent messages of support, and in Argentina and Peru had already begun to organize to discuss their own demands. The Colombians and Chileans believe continental solidarity will strengthen student movements everywhere – and reinvigorate their own long-running struggles.

Colombians are entering their fifth week on strike, despite a promise from their president, Juan Manuel Santos, to scrap the higher education reform that they are fighting. They are refusing to end the protest unless the reform package is officially withdrawn, which requires a Congressional vote.

The Colombian government pleaded yet again Tuesday for the students to back down. The Education Secretary, Maria Fernanda Campo, insisted the government was “not going to trick” the students and would always respect their right to peaceful protest – but “conditions were ripe for a return to class.” For the sixth time in six days, the government reiterated its call for students to “suspend their strike, return to class and finish the semester”.

The Chilean students have now been protesting for six months, demanding free higher education for all. They broke off dialogue with the government last October when this demand was flatly refused. The Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, has offered to increase education funding in the 2012 budget – but according to the centre-left opposition party the proposal is insufficient, and it certainly falls far short of what the students want.

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