Teachers & Hope in Colombia

by Janet Nicol

A man is face down on the ground, clutching a diploma in his outstretched arm. He could be Alejandro Penata, a 35-year-old social studies teacher who taught in a village in Colombia. A year ago Penata was strangled with a wire, his corpse left in a ditch. But the fallen man is, in fact, a statue, part of a monument to remember all the teachers, Penata included, who have been victims of targeted killings in Colombia, South America. The “monument to the fallen teachers” was installed in 2009 at the front entrance of the heavily fortified building of the teachers’ union, ADEMACOR (Asociacion De Maestros De Cordoba), in Cordoba.

Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union activist – including a teacher union activist. Shockingly, nearly 900 teachers throughout the country have been murdered over the past 25 years. Few of the individuals responsible have been arrested. Teachers continue to be victims of extortion, death threats and murder. That’s why a unique and disturbing clause exists in teachers’ union contracts. The clause guarantees threatened members with assistance to relocate to another school.

So begins an article on BC Teachers’ Federation members’ visits to Colombia, to lend support to their public school teacher colleagues. The article also includes interviews with teacher union representatives and a human rights lawyer. Solutions to the decades-long violence, including the current peace talks between the Colombia government and left-wing guerrilla group, FARC, are discussed along with positive actions people outside Colombia can take.

From Our Times magazine, December, 2012 – January, 2013 issue.


The monument to the Fallen Teachers – Among these three sculpted figures is a man face down, clutching a diploma.


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