Colombia's student movement called for a new round of national protests Wednesday after dialogue with President Ivan Duque failed. Students, mainly from public universities, are demanding higher budgets for public education to ensure quality. The student march, scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. (local time) will be joined by several unions who reject Duque's proposal to tax basic goods.
Wednesday night, after 12 hours of meetings with authorities of the Education Ministry, representatives of professors and students suspended dialogue with the government, demanding President Duque to join the talks and an increase in the budget allotted for higher education. The government, however, insists on maintaining the already-approved 2019 budget.
This decision comes two weeks after the directors of 32 universities reached an agreement with the Colombian government, through which the state offered more financial resources. However, students and professors -who were not included in negotiations- claim the increase is not sufficient.
At the beginning of the demonstrations, in early October, students, professor, and university directors said they needed a 3.2 billion pesos budget increase just to continue operations, pay professors and cover administrative expenses and 15 billion pesos to maintain quality and infrastructure.
In the directors-government agreement, Duque agreed to add three percentage points to the 2019 budget increase, four percentage points for the 2020-2022 budgets, and an additional 1.2 billion pesos for investment in the next four years.
Since 1993, the budget for public education in Colombia has only increased with inflation despite the fact that the public system continues to grow and accommodate more students, many of whom cannot afford private universities. Local news outlet Semana reported that the number of students in the public university system has increased by 284 percent between 1993 and 2016, going from 159,218 students to 611,800.
Asistimos a la reunión de organizaciones sociales y sindicatos convocada por la @cutcolombia .— OCECOLOMBIA.CO (@OCEcolombia) 6 de noviembre de 2018
Este 8 de noviembre nos movilizamos por presupuesto para la educación superior pública y contra la reforma tributaria de Duque. pic.twitter.com/qBC6GTV45J
"We are present at the meeting of social organizations and unions organized by @cutcolombia. This Nov. 8 we mobilize for public higher education budget and against Duque's tax reform," The Colombian Students’ Organization (OCE) tweeted.
Colombia's Central Workers' Union (CUT), the General Confederation of Labor, Colombia's teachers' union (Fecode), and others will march in several Colombian cities alongside Colombian students. "Against Duque and Carrasquilla's Tax Reform that lower 11.9 billion pesos in taxes for big companies between 2019 and 2020. #The8IMarchAgainstTheVAT," the CUT tweeted revealing the companies and banks that will benefit from Duque's proposed tax reform.
In an official joint statement by the CUT and Fecode, the unions argue the Finance Law presented to Congress "is an assault on the pockets of millions of Colombians, given that the middle class and the poor are the main victims." The tax reform will extend the VAT to almost all items in the basic consumer basket, including food items like plantain, rice, and bread.
The reform is presented "as a formula to reactivate the economy and create employment, the same argument used in previous tax reforms, without, in this 30 years, having witnessed neither. On the contrary, the real economy continues grounded," the unions lamented, stressing that national and foreign corporations will receive tax cuts by four percent, from 34 to 30 percent, in the next four years. "Without being the exception, this government responds to the orders of big capital and the United States."