Thousands of students took to the streets again on Wednesday to demand increased education funds, while negotiations with the government over budget gaps resumed.
For the fifth consecutive week, students rallied from the early morning in Colombia’s major cities as part of an ongoing strike to demand Duque talks to them about chronic underfunding in education.
With the exception of Medellin where police reportedly clashed with between 30 and 40 hooded men, no violence was reported.
A five-week deadlock
Students initially took to the streets demanding to talk to Duque after talks with the ministers of education and finance broke down in early October. The president has refused to sit down with the students until after they end their protest.
Duque reiterated on Tuesday that his budget proposals for next year offer the highest higher education funds in history. The students, however, say that the government is maintaining a budget gap that has deteriorated public education infrastructure for years.
Talks resumed after massive protests, but after these broke down, the marches turned violent.
The United Nations has been looking into alleged police brutality and police infiltration of the marches.
The student and Duque agree that the public education but deficits are not new. What the government and the students disagree on is whether Duque should do something about it.
“Universities have been privatized over the years; in 2000 the government assumed 80% of the budget, today this equals 50%, the rest must be financed with tuition fees,” student representative Andres Gomez told Education Minister Maria Victoria Angulo during a meeting on Wednesday.
Duque told radio station RCN on Tuesday that “we are not going to solve the historic debts in some sectors in 100 days,” the period he has been in office.
But the president agreed to “look for some additional resources, and we invite governors as well. That’s why the Development Plan seeks the participation of everyone in the different tables and reach agreements.”
The students want the government to reassign almost $1.5 billion (COP4.5 trillion) from the national budget to effectively close the budget gap. Duque has so far announced to reallocate $156 million (COP500 billion) to higher education, of which 87 million (COP279 billion) would go to universities.