Friday, February 27, 2009

Guerrillas and Graffiti at the University, Medellín.

Police and the army are not allowed at the University of Antioquia's campus; a rule designed to facilitate free speech and make sure that universities remain free from government censorship and oppression.

The campus is surrounded by a high fence, and each gate is manned by unarmed security guards who search everyone's backpack for weapons. It's one of the best universities in Colombia, and it's also a hotbed of leftist activism. There's graffiti on the walls, even inside the library. Many of it follows the message below: "It's time to abandon the carnival and start the revolution. -Camilo Torres Restrepo"

Torres, a Colombian priest who became a Marxist guerrilla fighter in the 1960s, is known for quotes like "If Jesus were alive, he would be a guerrilla." Colombia's guerrilla war started nearly 50 years ago by activists fighting for equality and a better life for the poor. Now the only insurgency left in Latin America, it has lost credibility because of involvement in the drug trade, kidnapping and extortion.

A friend who attended the university told me that the frequent demonstrations and protests there sometimes turned violent. Throwing rocks is common. Once when sitting in class she heard a bomb go off that killed two people. Colombia's guerrilla groups recruit on campus; A student once invited my friend to a FARC guerrilla meeting. I asked her if she thought of going out of curiosity. "No way," she said. "Once you go to a meeting you can never leave the FARC. I never spoke with that guy again."

The tensions in Colombian universities run high. The government accuses them of being havens for guerrillas, while the vast majority of students just want to study. Illegal paramilitary groups dedicated to fighting guerrillas regularly send death threats to leftist students and professors. An article from June 2008 describes President Uribe's controversial decision to allow police to enter a university in Bogotá after protesters attacked police with acid (here's a passable English translation). And here's a 2006 BBC article on university tensions, with English translation.


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I'm a freelance journalist based in Medellín, Colombia, developing my photography skills by posting regular photo reports on the country. For more information, visit:

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