Industrial University of Santander under political siege
Written by the Informational Whisper Editorial Committee
(Translated by Steve Fake, a CSN volunteer translator)
On the afternoon of May 3, 2009, a recording was leaked of a conversation between Dr. Jaime Alberto Camacho Pico, rector of the Universidad Industrial de Santander (UIS), and a paramilitary leader named Felix. This has revealed once again the strategy to silence teachers, students and employees of public universities, culminating in the murder of many of them by state agencies and paramilitary groups, with the full complicity of the judicial authorities. This strategy not only seeks to eliminate the voices of protest, but to introduce a model of education that sacrifices quality while encouraging the privatization of knowledge.
The National Scene
In the last decade, state universities have been subjected to a systematic policy of accusations, stigmatization, persecution, and murder with impunity by state agencies and paramilitary groups. The case of the University of Cordova is well known. The paramilitaries took control of the institution and placed the ex-rector, Claudio Sánchez Parra, at the head, an appointment imposed by Salvatore Mancuso. Since the admission of this fact, last November 21, no fewer than 19 members of the university community have been killed. This violence is not unique to Cordova. Consider the recent murder of Éder Enrique Sierra, a student at the University of La Guajira, and of Jorge Andres Isaza Velasquez at the University of Antioquia. Or take the cases at the University of Valle of Jhonny Silva and Julián Andrés Hurtado, killed in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Or the killings of Oscar Salas from the University Distrital Francisco José de Caldas in 2006, of Gustavo Marulanda, a student of Philosophy at the University of Antioquia murdered in 1999, and of Jaime Alfonso Acosta, a student of engineering Industrial University of Santander murdered in 2002. These are just the most well known, but unfortunately not the only, cases.
At the same time, all strata of the public universities are persecuted by their own directors and university governments for simply trying to voice opposition. The concentration of power in a single agency is clear, to the point that any reform is implemented by the cabinet without the direct presence of workers, teachers and students, under the guise of maintaining institutional integrity.
The tragic case of UIS
An example of this systematic policy has been on display at UIS since the year 2000. To achieve this policy, the internal and external establishment first conducted so-called opinion molding, beginning with the discrediting of the different forms of student organization and expression, as happened with the so-called road map, the document created by the students and endorsed by a university student assembly. This paper proposed mechanisms to "begin a process of dialogue and negotiation with the leadership” in an attempt to engage in a discussion, which, to date, has been ignored by the leaders of the institution. There has also been the elimination of non-institutional spaces, historically belonging to the students, with the excuse that they are “centers of subversion." Thus, for example, the "headquarters of the students," which for more than 40 years had belonged to the general student community, was closed. That entity was vacated in the middle of 2007, and today is only open to representatives endorsed by the institution.
At the external level, policy is evidenced by continuing campaigns of discrediting, backed by the major media, to show that there are infiltrators in the universities that incite students to protest. This can be observed in various newspaper articles and radio opinion programs. For example, the local newspaper, El Frente, in its edition for Sunday, April 29, 2007, wrote: “GUERRILLA PRESENCE IN UNIVERSITY CONFLICTS: The security services move to monitor an urban cell, self-styled the National Liberation Army, which was developing political activities around the strange conflicts occurring at the Industrial University of Santander."
The ex-governor, Hugo Aguilar Naranjo – who was investigated for holding several meetings with members of the so-called Bloque Central Bolivar, and who in 2007 was chairman of the UIS Upper Council - asserted without evidence, in an interview on Friday, 4 May 2007, with the television channel ORT-East Regional: "Everything seems to indicate that some students from the Industrial University of Santander who staged protests in the university senate were making potato bombs with shrapnel and another thing is that they have taken 2 floors and are developing potato bombs and even... using shrapnel." Also, in Vanguardia Liberal: "You must remember that in the disturbances initiated by some students of UIS in November last year, General Orlando Pineda Gomez, commander of the Metropolitan Police in Bucaramanga, said that intelligence work was able to detect infiltration by members of the Clandestine Communist Party of Colombia." These statements were repeated on 2 December 2008 by the governor of Santander, Horacio Serpa: "Unfortunately, we believe that there was infiltration by urban militias of the FARC and ELN in the riots." All this is in perfect sync with the threats made by the paramilitaries in a communiqué by the Bucaramanga Metropolitan Bloc of the New Generation of Black Eagles, released on 15 February 2009: "We are starting a nationwide campaign to exterminate the guerrillas from the Universities and we are going to start with UIS.”
Add to all of this the closure of newspapers, by university decrees, such as the newspaper Pro-texto, formerly the only student media, funded by the university. At the same time, government media is strengthened, where opinion differing from the university leadership is prohibited, as happened with the newspapers Cátedra Libre and Hecho en la UIS.
This method of opinion shaping is not only used for students, but also for any sector that differs from the guidelines. This is true of the Association of Teachers of UIS – ASPROUIS, in which, after a change in the board of the association, university leadership publicly declared: "The teachers' association has become politicized and radicalized in such a way that its primary objective has become the leftist political struggle and opposition to the national government and the administration of the University." This statement appears in an internal email from Alonso Silva, Director of Planning at UIS, sent to ASPROUIS in April 2009.
Measures of strength
In tandem with the siege by outside agencies, the community feels attacked by their own administration: "you have full knowledge of people who are taking on the role of... influencing the students who are moving towards the left?," “you know, and I know, that there are professors who are screwing with this." This is a snippet of a conversation between the University Chancellor and a paramilitary leader in 2007.
The university directors, the organs of the state, and paramilitary groups impose the politics of the stick, such as the disciplinary sanctions decreed by the Academic Council of the Industrial University of Santander, through agreement No. 146 of July 26, 2007, less than a month after the communication between the chancellor and the paramilitary leader. There he ordered the opening of a disciplinary investigation of a group of students from this institution, namely those which participated as student spokespersons in the dialogue process of the so-called road map. One week later (August 2), a message was received from the sender “email@example.com” to the address of the Union of University Workers and Employees of SINTRAUNICOL Colombia, Bucaramanga branch. The communication was entitled WARNING II, and declared seven students, a professor and a worker to be military targets for the crime of being suspected guerrillas.
Of the request to retract what was written and said in the press months before against the Student Movement of the UIS, Hugo Aguilar Naranjo, president of the Upper Council-UIS, said the following: "at no time would a retraction be considered, because the intelligence coming from the national security agencies within the University has demonstrated the infiltration of people who are not students of this institution, as has happened in demonstrations, the permanent assembly, and other activities that have been developing.”
At the same time, on June 16, 2008, a professor was threatened with death by the Central Bolivar Bloc. On the 24th of the same month, 2 students were expelled by administrative act. The expulsion process had begun with the initiation of an investigation ordered by the Academic Council of 17 students, through an elite group within the Council. It should be noted that flaws are evident within these processes, since the university government in UIS acts as investigator, judge and prosecution in disciplinary proceedings.
Private security forces are a widely used weapon of harassment, even though the attorney general and controller in 2002 recommended eliminating such forces and better strengthening security through use of UIS’ own employees. This monitoring is supported by the installation of more than 50 surveillance cameras on campus. But, seeing that the goal was not achieved with previous practices, the use of physical aggression began. More than 9 cases of physical assault on students by private security forces have been reported during the administration of Chancellor Jaime Camacho. At the moment, 47 people, including students, teachers and workers, are threatened with death in UIS by paramilitary groups in public announcements and through other harassment. All these cases have been reported and documented by human rights organizations. In turn, in the course of this decade, the prosecutor’s office has pursued more than 15 students for crimes ranging from terrorism to rioting, many of them accused by the same heads of the university. To date, none of these students has been convicted and most cases have been closed.
Despite the efficiency of the public prosecutor and the security organs of the state in organizing to accuse the university community of various acts, this enthusiasm is not extended to protecting the community. To date, the interior ministry has refused to take precautions or provide protection to the university community, and the directors only approved the inaction. The strange thing is that the chancellor of UIS knew the intentions of paramilitary groups to assassinate members of the community since at least mid-2007. As can be heard in the recording, Felix, who contacted paramilitary leader, said: "This here is what is going to make a “Pistol Plan,” and we will move against the people who are doing that. I need you to assist me with the list of people you see or believe do not agree with what the college is doing, who, on the contrary, want to push things to the left."
Even more disconcerting is the public support given by the same paramilitary groups to the university government "because, in our opinion, they have managed the university well, and we support the re-election of the rector CAMACHO PICO.” Thus reads the communique of February 15 of this year, where the reintegrated forces from the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia declare 26 students, 12 workers SINTRAUNICOL, and 6 teachers to be military targets. Despite the seriousness of the facts, the matter was not reported to the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor for investigation to begin the process of taking measures to protect the community.
We hope this article serves as a call to the different levels of society and protects the most valuable thing that the public universities produce: diversity of thought - the guarantee of a real democracy.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621