About 300 students from the Paraguayan National University and the private Catholic University marched to the national police headquarters in Asuncion on October 25 to protest the new Law of Higher Education (LES).
The law passed through the lower house of the Paraguayan Congress three weeks earlier, and is currently before the Upper House.
During the protest, Romilio Gonzalez and Johana Orihuela, members of the Popular University Movement, spoke to Green Left Weekly.
“This is one of a number of actions we are carrying out,” Orihuela said.
“We did one in November last year. The demands are for free education for everyone.
“Right now education in Paraguay is not free. Our education system is just aimed toward work in the market place and it is not for our people, not for science and not for research.
“We want an education relevant to our people, to our country Paraguay and to South America. Education is considered a commodity and not a right. Students shouldn’t have to pay for education.”
Gonzalez explained: “This strike is part of the international student movement which marched last October 8. We are inspired by the Chilean student movement.
“The new law will further privatise education. It will be exclusive, and oriented toward studies that are merely designed to make a profit, which will be the principal basis of our education system.
“It will not liberate our people. It will not raise the cultural level of our people, but just increase the exploitation in the market place by the big multinationals.
“There are two giant transnationals, Monsanto and Rio Tinto, which are making a great effort to see that the law is passed. It is a great benefit for them; they will appropriate the science and the knowledge produced.
“There is a great danger with this law that education will be centralised so that the vast majority of young people won’t have access to higher education. There is no free university.
“Even at the National University, you still pay only a little less than other private universities. To register for a course, you must pay US$100-300, and $50-100 for each exam.
“There are about 3 million young people in Paraguay and only 6% go to university. Of that 6%, some 96% attend private universities and only 4% go to the public university.
“It is very exclusive. The majority of workers and peasants who want to go to university have to work to pay for a private education,” Gonzalez said.