Tens of thousands of students and supporters across Colombia caused road blocks and commotion Thursday in protest against reforms to their higher education system, despite the fact that President Juan Manuel Santos said he would withdraw the reform proposal if strikes stop.
Carrying banners, flags, and toting painted faces the students chanted “we don’t educate human capital, we educate human beings” and it’s “not a law change, but a change of the country.”
Enforced by 2,500 security forces, including police officers and Army troops, the student protest was kept peaceful throughout the day.
“In Bogota alone we have mobilized more than 200,000 people” claimed the representative of the Organization of Colombian Students (OCE), Sergio Fernandez, in Plaza Bolivar. Radio station Caracol estimated that some 20,000 students from the capital’s largest National University were taking part in the marches.
Similar manifestations took place in Colombia’s other main cities, including Medellin, Cali, and Villavicencio. More than 500 thousand students at 32 Colombian public universities have been on strike for a month because of their opposition to the reform.
“The marches have been enormous, and have taken place without altercations,” assured the OCE representative, next to the Federation of University Students (FEU).
The president told the protesters “you organized this strike so that they would withdraw the reform, and we have already responded positively to your solicitation. We are going to remove the reform if they stop the strike and go back to classes. There isn’t any threat here.”
The head of state explained that the goal of the reform is to guarantee more resources for public universities, improve the quality of public education, and facilitate the provision of subsidies to students who can’t afford to pay for higher education.
Students announced they would have a national assembly on Saturday to decided the future of the Colombian university strike.
Santos said “as president of Colombia I publicly express my intention, and that of all of the officials of my government, to mobilize financial, technical, and human resources that are within our network to improve the learning process for Colombians, and close inequality gaps.”