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CUPE has written to Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez to express concern about attacks on students and trade union leaders at the University of Valle in Cali.

On April 3, 2008, during a student demonstration against government cuts to university funding and the privatisation of the public education system, police, anti-riot squads and the army shot at and assaulted demonstrators and smashed windows and buildings.

Jose Milciades Sanchez Ortiz, a human rights defender for the university workers’ union SINTRAUNICOL, was filming the police violence. The police anti-riot squad assaulted him, shot him in the arm with a tear gas canister, threatened him with arrest and destroyed the evidence he had been filming. Seven students were arrested. Three were later released, but four were charged with terrorism and property damage.

On April 21, 2008, a death threat from the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), a re-armed paramilitary death squad, was emailed to several University of Valle student leaders. The death squad threatens to cleanse the university of guerrillas, communists and others.

“We implore you to immediately release the students unjustly detained and accused of terrorism,” wrote National President Paul Moist and National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Genereux.

The letter further called on the president to “ensure the safety of all the students and the union leader who has been threatened, insist on respect for the autonomy of the University of Valle and for the right of freedom of expression, including peaceful protest.”