COLOMBIA: Students Rebel Against Police and Politicians in Support of Education Strike

Photo: Student protesters march under a banner reading, “It is Right to Rebel!”

By Thomas Lambert

Throughout the past several weeks, students across Colombia have taken to the streets in support of striking teachers, clashing with riot police known as the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD) in a continuation of the two-day education strike that began on February 20.

Students prepared for clashes with riot police, shields read, “Up the Popular Struggle” and “Long Live the Agrarian Revolution”

In Soacha, an industrial working-class suburb of Bogotá, students from the University of Cundinamarca and University Minuto de Dios blocked roads with burning debris to support the education strike. At the Universidad Distrital in Bogotá, students blocked a major road and successfully defended it against ESMAD for three hours. The Universidad Distral students had been fighting with the police since February 21, blocking the street on several occasions. In Popayán students blocked roads near the University of Cauca, followed by additional skirmishes with ESMAD.

In attempt to disperse the ongoing student protests, ESMAD has used tear gas and concussion grenades, as well as armored vehicles armed with water cannons. To defend against the attacks, students have utilized debris, Molotov cocktails, and homemade bombs at the police and their vehicles.

Claudia Lopez, mayor of Bogota, was quick to reveal herself as an enemy of the people despite her fake progressive rhetoric. In order to control the people’s mobilization, Lopez attempted to collaborate with reformist elements of the mass protest, while sending the ESMAD after any protesters identified as ‘violent agitators.’ This demarcation between ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ protesters served to draw sections of the people into cooperation with the ruling class and crush those that might pose a real threat to the reactionary old state. Most students, however, saw through her scheme and continued to fight against state repression.

On March 2, Lopez again went against the people’s will and declared an increase in the transit fare in direct opposition to the student movements’ demands for transit costs to be lowered across the board and free for students. Since the announcement students have already begun organized fare evasions on Bogota’s TransMilenio bus system.

This movement of students and workers is part of the ongoing struggles of the Colombian people, which have been in a heightened state since the national strike that began on November 21, 2019. Due to fear of the students’ mass rebellion, Colombian state officials have increased repressive measures against protesters.

The February 20 education strike mobilized over 300,000 teachers. They protested against killings and threats of violence directed toward teachers and activists, which the old state has allowed to continue unchecked. Teachers also demanded better working conditions and better funding for their schools. This strike is one of several actions planned by Colombia’s National Strike Committee leading up to another general strike planned for March 25.

Joining the education strike, students at the University of Antioquia in Medellin occupied a section of their campus, barricading themselves against police attack. They were forced out after the Mayor, Daniel Quintero, ordered in the police to enter the campus, something that has not happened in eight years, in order to repress the student protesters. The next day, students retook the campus and held an assembly in which they officially denounced Quintero, who had come into office with a progressive mask.

The youth are seeing through the empty promises of opportunist politicians and their false appeals to the masses, which at times may disrupt mass movements and trick sections of the people into collaboration with the old state. But the crisis of bureaucratic capitalism forces the old state to adopt more overt forms of repression, which the youth have shown themselves prepared to withstand and overcome with their fiery rebellion.

Follow revolutionary Colombian news source El Comunero Prensa Popular for more news on the ongoing popular rebellion.