Colombia’s national university student union (MANE) is planning a nationwide torch-bearing protest for Wednesday, as a show of support for the start of a teachers strike and an ongoing agricultural strikes, as well as a way of drawing attention to an education reform proposal the student body released two weeks ago.
The ‘Torch March and Human Chain’ protest is one of several national demonstrations the MANE have planned for the upcoming weeks, including one scheduled to take place next week at the National University in Bogota, where the MANE will present its proposed education reform legislation.
MANE representative Amaury Nuñez told Colombia Reports that the students are manifesting against the steady defunding and privatization of Colombia’s public higher education, a process several years in the making, and the motivation behind massive university strikes last year.
The government has yet to comply with deals made to end the previous strike, he said, and the funding initiative enacted last week by President Juan Manuel Santos falls drastically short of the measures the MANE says are necessary to preserve the public university system in Colombia, which recent statistics show is operating at a growing $5 billion budget deficit.
MANE officials drafted a comprehensive education reform proposal several weeks ago, but Nuñez claims the government has yet to contact student leaders.
The MANE, he said, has not yet decided whether it will declare a nationwide strike. Protest leaders have been vocal proponents of ongoing strike efforts in other sectors, but the organization as a whole is waiting to see how the government reacts to its upcoming demonstrations, and whether it can engage the Santos administration in a formal dialogue surrounding its proposed education reform.
The MANE will decide on a more extreme course of action later this month, said Nuñez, according to its own internal voting mechanisms.
The last time the MANE declared a school shutdown, well over 600,000 students walked out of classes, with many tens of thousands taking to the streets in various cities across the country in what became a heavy, chaotic series of protests.
“Last time, the strikes were very hard,” said Nuñez. “We want to avoid having to take those measures again, but that depends on the government’s reaction to peaceful, justified protests.”
With Colombia’s public school teachers on indefinite work stoppage, and no clear end in sight for the nationwide agricultural strikes, the Santos administration can ill afford to allow Colombia’s university students to join the fray.
- Interview with Amaury Nuñez
- MANE Facebook page