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After over a month-long protest, Colombian students met with government representatives to discuss the budget for public universities.
Colombian President Ivan Duque said he won’t attend any dialogue with university students until they break the strike that began in early October in which they are demanding an increase in the education budget — students have already rejected the condition.
“Lifting the strike and establishing a great pact for education, I’m willing to meet not only with them, but also with the directors, teachers,” said Duque in interview with RCN Radio Monday, using the same strategy he has set for negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Responding to his conditions, student leaders said they won’t lift the strike to please the government.
“What we’ve seen is a government that sits comfortably rejecting proposals, one after the other. The position of the education minister and deputy minister is that there’s no more money for education in the country,” said Alex Florez, representative of the National Council of Higher Education, in interview with RCN.
Jean Carlos Acevedo, spokesperson of the National Union of Superior Education Students (Unees), also declared that they won’t stop.
“Contrary to what the president says, we think it’s not necessary to lift the strike to meet with him. That’s the roar that’s making the whole country understand what’s going on with public education in the country,” said Acevedo.
According to statements by president, it’s impossible to solve the university budget problem in just 100 days of governing and highlighted that his planned education investment budget already doubles the that of the military.
On Thursday, 34 senators and 57 members of the House of Representatives sent Duque a letter urging him to resume dialogue with the students following a massive protest joined by workers' unions and Indigenous groups that was met with violent repression by the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (Esmad).
As a result, the first day of direct dialogue between the Minister of Education Maria Victoria Angulo and university students was held Monday, but no agreement has been announced so far.
Besides Angulo, Diego Hernandez, director of Colciencias (Administrative Department of Science, Technology, and Innovation), as well as representatives of the Ministry of Finance and the National Department of Planning (DNP) participated in the negotiations from the government’s side.
The students were represented by members of ACREES (Colombian Association of Student Representative), UNES (Students Unit), Fenares and teachers of the University of Antioquia (ASOPRUDEA), and the Trade Union Association of University Professors (ASPU).
ACREES posted photos of the meeting on Twitter rejecting Duque's tax reform and calling for a new march on Nov. 28.
Participamos en la reunión del Comando Nacional Unitario, crece respaldo a las exigencias de estudiantes y profesores universitarios, y rechazo a la regresiva Reforma tributaria de @IvanDuque. ¡28 de noviembre vamos pa' las calles en las capitales! pic.twitter.com/t8ZLbo3Gwf
During the meeting, the student leaders demanded 560 billion pesos for public universities as well as 3.2 billion pesos for operations. Likewise, university students demanded a payment plan to alleviate the historical debt and an additional amount for other educational training institutions. One and a half billion pesos for technological institutes and 7 billion pesos for science and technology.
Students were joined by workers, Indigenous people, teachers, and various unions who reject the government's economic and social policies.
The President of the United Worker’s Central (CUP) Diogenes Orjuela told teleSUR that their main demands are "withdrawal of the tax reform bill that raises Value Added Tax (VAT) on basic goods, and that a roundtable of students, professors, and university workers be reopened so the government, through a dialogue with them, can define a strategy to get Colombian universities out of the crisis in which they find themselves."