As in the rest of Latin America, students had a tradition of political activism in Colombia. Nevertheless, their importance in Colombian politics was marginal until the "days of May" in 1957 when their protest demonstrations and efforts to enforce a civic strike played a key role in the overthrow of the Rojas Pinilla regime. Subsequently, their protests often centered on university issues but also included domestic concerns, such as increases in bus fares, and on international themes, especially antiimperialism . Although the students occasionally aligned themselves with other groups, such as labor, in seeking to promote reforms, most often they were unable to coordinate their activities or to create a powerful national organization. Government repression and division within the Colombian left, which affected student groups as well, inhibited the formation of a unified national student movement in Colombia during the 1970s and much of the 1980s. Political activism was most pronounced among university students, primarily at the National University of Colombia (Universidad Nacional de Colombia--UNC) in Bogotá but also at the universities of Valle, Antioquia, Cauca, and Los Andes. Repression of students in the 1980s was not so severe as in the 1970s, when many students saw no alternative to joining the guerrilla ranks. In May 1984, however, the UNC's Bogotá branch closed its doors to some 20,000 students following a protest in which security forces shot 10 students.
The principal problems facing the public universities in 1987 included financial crises, deteriorating academic quality, and a lack of cohesive government policy toward state institutions. A national congress, held by about 3,000 university and high school delegates in Bogotá in May 1987, and massive student rallies in the preceding months reflected continued student discontent.
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