Numa Andrés Paredes Betancourt, a member of the National Executive Committee of the ACEU (one of Colombia’s main student union federations), visited Britain recently as part of a trip organised by Justice for Colombia, the labour movement campaign in solidarity with workers and students in Colombia. Daniel Randall spoke to him at the National Union of Students conference in Blackpool.
DR: Could you tell us something about the campaigns you’re running currently?
NAPB: In international terms we want people to focus on campaigning to get the UK government to stop funding the Colombian military. We need to let the Colombian government know they’re being watched and break their stream of misinformation.
In Colombia, our main project is to fundraise so we can establish a safehouse for student activists who’ve been displaced or forced to go into hiding due to government and paramilitary threats. Such a safehouse could also be used as a space for organising. Most of our work is focused towards this project at the moment.
We’re also looking to deepen our international links, with a view to organising a conference or similar event with delegations from student unions and activist groups internationally. That’s certainly something we’d like to stay in touch about.
DR: Your movement is very active despite the great dangers facing it. Here in the UK, the student movement is significantly less active even though we have much more freedom to campaign. How does that make you feel?
NAPB: We’re campaigning for the maintenance of the university as a space where people can develop politically. Our struggles in Colombia are driven by resistance to the privatisation and marketisation of education, so the issues facing us are similar even though the levels of danger are different.
DR: What are the links like between the labour and student movements in Colombia?
NAPB: We have very close links with trade unions, because student unions in Colombia always take up wider socio-economic issues in our campaigning. Our best links are with the unions representing teachers and other campus workers. We’ve gone as far as to establish a national coordinating committee between education workers’ unions and student unions to plan joint strikes and demonstrations.