COLOMBIA. It has been a month and the student strike at the University of Cartagena strengthens

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A month into student demonstrations at the University of Cartagena, permanent assemblies continue to build a General Requirements Specification, composed by a petition to the administration of Principal Edgar Parra Chacón, who so far has not acted upon the demands for better infrastructure and decent conditions of employment for teachers.

Colombia Informa / The Dawn / October 4, 2015

The beginning

It was the students of Natural Sciences who initiated the protests, motivated mainly by the lack of teachers and the awful infrastructure conditions. In the first days of last September, they decided to take legal means with the aim of requiring minimum conditions that enable them to study safely and comfortably. Among these were the reparation of dangerous electrical installations, appropriate first aid services, ventilation of the classrooms and the solution of classroom overpopulation, bad odors coming from the sewers, among others. After receiving no response, they went on strike. However, the situation only became visible to the public when they occupied the Cloister of St. Augustine. Other faculties of the University of Cartagena organised assemblies in which they decided to take part in the protests and formulated the petitions that later composed the General Requirements Specification upheld today.

During the process many actions were taken, including manifestations, coordination between organizations, and socialization of the problem. The stoppage received significant support from students, alumni and citizens.

Unfulfilled agreements

On Saturday, September 19th, student representatives and the university administration signed a letter of commitment as proof of the start of the negotiations tables between the two parties, with the aim of lifting the students’ blockades at all levels of the Cloister, occupied two weeks ago. On September 22nd, the negotiating tables were installed in the library of the Senate in the presence of students, teachers and administration representatives.

To ensure the transparency of the meeting, the assembly met with all it’s members publicly, and was broadcasted live on the website of the University.

However, attempts by the administration to delay the whole process were evident. Students agreed on that, through distractions and provocations, they tried to break up the student movement, thus diverting them from the main objective: the implementation of agreements and commitments.

To this date, the administration of the University of Cartagena, according to students, does not show willingness to negotiate. They argue a lack of funds and the need for “special studies” to be conducted even when it comes to minimum requirements.

Supplanting students

The Principal of the University, Parra Chacon, responded to the success of the student’s actions by calling to a mobilization of all sectors of the University on September 21, in a clear exercise of appropriation of the historical forms of student organization. Parra Chacon’s “protest” tried to divide the students, workers and teachers through the opening of the Cloister, even though it had been open since September 19th.

On September 25th, the Student Platform demanded access to the University’s financial statement and the budget execution report. Faced with this apparently simple demand, Parra’s officials found the request impossible to fulfill and questioned the “intellectual capacities of students, evidenced by poor academic grades”. The funny thing is that these documents are public and freely accessible to the public, something that Parra’s team apparently wasn’t aware of.

Pressures and resistance

The confrontation over the budget led the administration to block the access to the Cloister of St. Augustine since the night of September 26th. The following Sunday, and over a period of time, neither the entry of people or exit of the students who were already inside since the day before was allowed. Later on, only the exit of those inside was allowed.

Because of this, 15 students were forced to spend over twelve hours without food. The same happened in the Piedra de Bolívar building.

According to the students, these actions violated the agreements signed upon by the faculty members and the students. In those agreements, Parra Chacon government promised to “respect the peaceful protests”.

And now what?

The Broad Student Platform ‘SOS University of Cartagena’, comprising all the students mobilized in the exercise of the right to protest, continues to demand the minimum conditions for studying that the institution must provide.

Today, despite these obstacles and pressures from the Superior Council of the University of Cartagena, that threatens to cancel the semester, protests are held: “The only thing left is union and mobilization”, announced the Platform.

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