Amid violence and protests, Colombian universities seek to promote a national dialogue

Source: Science Magazine

In the first week of May, hundreds of college students in Colombia turned off their webcams during online classes and shared the same profile picture, a black background with a message in capital letters: “It is difficult to study while my people are being killed.” It was their way of supporting a national strike and protests that started on 28 April and left 19 people dead in the first week, many of them apparently killed by the Colombian police and its antiriot squad.

The webcam demonstration marked a turning point in the involvement of Colombia’s academic world in the country’s social upheaval, which has only escalated since then. More than 40 people have now died and there are more than 2000 complaints of police brutality, including 27 cases of sexual violence; nearly 200 people are missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, initially to protest a tax reform that was later withdrawn, and now to demand measures against police brutality, inequality, and the economic impact of the pandemic, which has left 42% of Colombians living on less than $90 monthly.

University students from all fields have led demonstrations in the biggest cities and nearly 8000 Colombian researchers have signed a letter rejecting police brutality. The Colombian Association of Evolutionary Biology and the Colombian Botanical Association have released statements supporting protesters and demanding respect for human rights. On 8 May, ornithologists and biology students boycotted Colombia’s participation in the biggest international bird-watching event, the Global Big Day.



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