BOGOTA – Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos called on Wednesday on public-school teachers to end a nearly month-long strike that has affected more than 8 million students nationwide.
“I’m calling on all of the country’s teachers to return to their classrooms, and together we’ll guarantee the education of children and young people of Colombia,” Santos said in a speech.
The teachers’ strike, which began on May 11 and has included numerous demonstrations, was organized to press demands for higher salaries and better working conditions.
Tens of thousands of teachers nationwide protested on Tuesday in Bogota, and a smaller demonstration was held on Wednesday in the capital’s downtown Bolivar Square.
Santos noted that the Education Ministry had issued a directive requiring teachers to make up the classes they have missed due to the strike before receiving their salaries.
The president insisted that education had been a priority of his since he first took office seven years ago.
“Over the past four years, it’s been the sector with the biggest budget. And during my administration, we’ve doubled it,” he said.
Santos said teachers also had been a priority, noting that his administration has pushed for pay increases and created scholarship and training programs, among other measures.
But the Colombian Federation of Education Workers (Fecode) said on its Web site that its national board had unanimously voted Wednesday to continue the teachers’ strike until the government meets a list of demands.
“There has been no progress in the negotiations because the government’s proposals remain far removed from the solutions to the needs of Colombian education,” Fecode said.
“The government must (ensure funding for) public education in the short term and a reform of the General Participation System (an institutional mechanism governing transfers from the national level to local authorities) that ensures a budget for the long term. None of that has been offered.”
Separately, Santos said on Wednesday that his government and local leaders had reached agreements to end civic protests and strikes that over the past several weeks had affected the impoverished and violence-racked Pacific port of Buenaventura and the economically underdeveloped northwestern province of Choco.
“In Choco and Buenaventura, necessary and responsible agreements were arrived at in recent days to accelerate and increase investments carried out since 2010 to pay a historical debt with the Colombian Pacific,” Santos said in a statement.
In Buenaventura, a strike lasting 21 days caused economic losses totaling roughly 300 billion pesos (around $103 million).
Among other things, the government agreed to arrange a foreign loan of $76 million to finance investments in the city over the next 10 years.
Santos’ administration also pledged to invest nearly 1.5 trillion pesos in public works projects in Buenaventura through Aug. 7, 2018, when the president’s final term in office expires.
The government also promised to invest nearly 530 billion pesos in Choco to improve road infrastructure and enhance health services through, among other things, construction of a new hospital.