Students, teachers and labor unions go on national strike in Colombia

World Today

Colombian students, teachers, labor unions and indigenous groups are on national strike Wednesday. Tens of thousands hit the streets of 32 major cities.

Hundreds of thousands of Colombian students are accusing the government of neglecting the country’s education.

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports.

On Wednesday, students, and teachers took the streets of Bogota in the largest protest since they began their strike in October.

“We have had many protests, but we are at the critical point where some universities are about to close because of a lack of budget. So, we decided to get together nationally, and we have been on strike for the past 48 days,” said Miguel Angel Gomez, Architectural Student Representative.

Their biggest demand: a bigger national budget for public universities. While student unions are negotiating with government officials, students continue marching.

President Ivan Duque addressed the nation this week, saying he heard their concerns.

Duque claims his government has passed the highest education budget in the country’s history.

“We have made a huge effort in the middle of severe restrictions. That is why I invite students to value this and continue to contribute ideas about the future in these next four years.”

The workers union and political parties joined Wednesday’s demonstrations—declared their opposition to the Duque government. Their biggest complaint is over government tax reforms, which at one point included a value-added tax to basic goods like bread and fruit.

“This financial reform by President Duque hopes to raise taxes for the poorest people in the country with the objective to lower taxes for transnational companies and largest corporations,” said Manuel Sarmiento, a local official with Colombia’s opposition party.

While mounting opposition forced the government to withdraw its initial plan to tax basic food items, workers unions continue to express discontent over Duque’s policies.

“Tomorrow, 7 a.m., we will hold a meeting to define what we do moving forward…if the government ignores these citizen expressions,” said Diojenes Orjuela, president of the Central Workers Union.

Protests are taking place across 32 cities of Colombia and that is why this is being called the “Tomas de Capitales” — the ‘Takeover of Cities.