Colombian students demanding respect for public education and an end to murders of social leaders in the country, were violently repressed by the Anti-Riot Mobile Squad (Esmad) in Popayan – capital of the department of Cauca, on Thursday.

Students protect themselves from tear gas used by the Esman, Colombia’s anti-riot police. December 13, 2018. | Photo: EFE

Students all across the country are protesting to demand an end to systematic murders and defend students’ rights, among them the right to protest peacefully, as the movements have previously been the target of repressive operations.

Even though the protest was peaceful, Esmad didn’t hesitate on acting. Some of the students searched for refuge at Cauca University and local media outlets have reported people were seriously injured, including one with an open wound near their eye.

Authorities explained that security forces reacted to violent actions from a group of demonstrators covering their faces in the Tulcan sector. Student leaders denounced this group as being part of the march, and that they were probably provocateurs.

The director of Cauca University arrived to the scene and tried to mediate to calm down the events.

In Medellin students gathered at 10 a.m. at a park in Northern Carabobo and marched all the way to La Alpujarra administrative center.

“The objective is to protest for social leaders that have been murdered until now and educate as we have always done,” said the spokesperson of the University of Antioquia Television (UdeA), Isabel Rengifo, in Medellin.

Rengito declared that the student strike, which started in October, will continue until reaching a fair agreement with the Colombian government. Students are demanding a rise on the education budget, claiming public education is in danger, but President Ivan Duque have been negligent on negotiating with them.

“This will strengthen the negotiating table, so the government won’t think it will demobilize us. On the contrary, we will continue going out into the streets,” she said.

The Esmad also acted in response to a group of people wearing masks and acting violently.

In Bogota students marched to the National University. Things ran smoothly but by 3 p.m. local media reported the Esmad used tear gas against demonstrators. Soon after, a university professor was injured and clashes continued for a couple of hours.

The National Union of Higher Education Students (Unees) was one of the main student unions organizing the march while the Colombian Association of Higher Education Student Representatives (Acrees) called for a press conference to inform about advances at the negotiating table.

“There are some organizations and platforms that called for a march at a regional level, making use of their autonomies,” said Daniela Gallo, one of Acrees’s leader, showing respect for the other students’ decision.

This is the ninth national day of protests called by the students movement, protesting for the education budget in public universities and against the rise of sales taxes, a cause many in Colombia are supporting.

While student representatives met with the Education Minister Maria Victoria Angulo to discuss the demands in order to increase the budget for public education, the protests’ organizers declared that this might be the last march of the year, but there’s one confirmed for Jan. 17, 2019.

“We understand December dynamics, but we hope to gather more people,” said Noel Ruiz, from the National Union of Higher Education Students (Unees). “Students from the Sena, the District University, the National, and others will come out.”