Today, 4 April 2001, at about 12 noon, the students at Cauca Valley University made a protest against the systematic violations of human rights that have been happening in the Department, and against the projected Law 012 which is being debated in Congress.
This proposed law is considered to be an attack on the right to education and health.
While in the middle of their protest at the university’s commercial centre Unicentro, the students were attacked by the private security men who shot indiscriminately at the protesting students and at campus workers. Armed men in civilian clothes invaded the campus, shooting indiscriminately at the university community.
Later, at 2pm, a contingent of security forces entered the university centre and assaulted the students with tear gas and shots. They blocked the entrances and exits of the university. According to reports received by regional human rights organisations, as well as trade unions and social organisations, 15 students and one police were injured. 14 students and one worker were detained, including JUAN MANUEL VELASQUEZ from the Social Communication Faculty, who was taken to the offices of the SIJIN [special detective branch], HEBER GOMEZ LOAIZA whose faculty is not known, and a worker ALVARO CARDENA. And at the lakeside the police threatened a man who they encountered in the photocopy shop, and another man at the fruit stall.
A student called JUAN CARLOS (he is in the Economics faculty but his surname is not known), was detained by 5 men in civilian clothes who made him get into a white off-road vehicle. Up till now his whereabouts is not known.
From the time that the students started their protest, several vehicles with dark windows containing heavily armed men in civilian clothes took up position on the outskirts of the university. At around 2.45pm a big, coffee coloured Toyota, with the number plate ZIL-914 from Zipaquira, parked behind the university buildings adjoining the San JoaquÌn district. From there several men in civilian dress were seen shooting and controlling the exit of students who were scared by the shots and were trying to save themselves.
At around 3pm in the middle of the shooting students RUBEN VILLA VALENCIA, from the Economics Faculty, OSCAR ARTURO ESTRADA, from the Engineering Faculty, LILIAN AIDE TORO C. and MARCELA LOPEZ PINEDA from the Education Faculty took refuge in a house in San JoaquÌn, near to the university.
Members of SIJIN and of the Police arrived at this house and tried to gain entry without any permission to do so. The students and the householder stated that they had no problem for the police to inspect the house, but they demanded that the officers showed an authorised warrant and they asked for the presence of competent state officials.
Some trade union and social leaders received emergency calls, and they solicited the attendance of the Ombudsman and the Public Defender. On their arrival, these state officials were verbally attacked by the officers surrounding the house, a good number of whom were in civilian clothes without any form of identification. It was only at 8pm, with the arrival of the Public Attorney, that an entry warrant was brought, and the uniformed and civilian officers entered.
Approximately 300 students stayed in the university buildings until about 9pm in the evening. They were kept surrounded by the security forces and had not been able to leave the university. The whereabouts of 49 students and two children are not known.
The security forces attacked the University buildings, breaking glass, shooting at the trade union centre and the vehicles that they found parked inside this centre of education.
On 22 March 2001, thirty five thousand people from the trade unions, social sectors, peasants, students, citizens and popular areas of the city of Santiago de Cali went on a massive protest against the systematic violations of human rights, the advance of paramilitarism, and the economic policies of the current government and the International Monetary Fund. These economic policies are being implemented through:
- Law 617 of Fiscal readjustment, through which they are trying to sack massive numbers of public sector workers at municipal and departmental levels;
- The privatisation of Cali’s municipal corporations;
- The approval of the proposed Law 012 which would cut the Health and Education Budgets.
On the same day members of the Cali Municipal Council Workers Union declared a permanent assembly and peacefully occupied the Municipal Council buildings.
On 26 March, Elisa Valdez, ex-president of the Valley Section of the SINDES trade union, was killed in Cali, in spite of being covered by the Ministry of Interior’s protection programme. She had on numerous occasions been threatened by the paramilitary group that operates in this Department, and had asked to leave the country as the only way of protecting her life.
On 28 March the municipality’s secretaries and the citizens rights workers, organised in the Valley Department Trade Union were unjustly sacked by the governor. The union and the community mothers organised in the ACMAVALLE association peacefully took over the building of the Valley Department Ministry of Works.
On Monday 2 April, members of the Municipal Complaints Office Trade Union peacefully took over the seventh floor of the municipality’s central administrative building.
These protest actions take place in the middle of a sharp social crisis in the region, with an increase in human rights violations and with constant persecution of social leaders, students, peasants and the people. But until now the departmental and national authorities have not involved themselves in proposing a way out of this conflict.
Alexander Lopez Maya
(on behalf of 14 trade union, social and human rights organisations)
Sussex University Cuba Solidarity Society sends its solidarity to the students and workers in the Valley University in Colombia in their struggle against privatisation of health and education and also the exploitation of the Colombian State.
At Sussex University and in Great Britain generally we are too fighting against these attacks and also suffer repression from the University Authorities, the security they employ and the police when we organise and fight although of course the repression is relatively less here than what the Colombian state delivers to the Colombian people.
We fully support the demands of the workers and students in seeking justice against the repression.
We only apologise for sending this message sooner but we hope that we will from this moment on build greater unity with you in out common struggle. The same imperialism which oppresses you also oppresses us here in Great Britain and we will find greater strength in our unity through struggle.
Sussex University Cuba Solidarity Society
There are still two students detained on 4 April in police custody. They are being held while investigations go on.
3 May 2001