Education International
Education International

Voyage to international conference becomes an odyssey for Colombian academic

published 16 November 2016 updated 17 November 2016

Miguel Angel Beltrán, a prominent academic invited to deliver a keynote on free speech at Education International’s higher education conference in Ghana had to once again overcome political discrimination in order to reach his destination.

Standing in front of the audience at Education International (EI)’s 10th Further and Higher Education and Research Conference, in Accra, Ghana, Beltrán thanked the participants for the “immense solidarity” that had allowed him to reach the venue. After having been retained while in transit at Panama’s international airport and sent back to Bogotá, where his journey began, he eventually managed to continue his travels and deliver his keynote speech.

Overcoming hurdles through international solidarity

Since 2009, Beltrán has been imprisoned twice, convicted on bogus charges. He was eventually acquitted, having his eight-year sentence dropped in early September when the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that the charges against Beltrán were both illegal and based on illegal evidence.

In his address to the conference, Beltrán stressed that it was “key to mobilise on a global level to challenge the forces that are trying to silence critical thinking.” He emphasised the importance of the autonomy of universities, in times when “freedom of speech is increasingly under attack”.

He reminded the affiliates attending the conference of the crucial actions of unions and of international solidarity. As an example he cited his own union, ASPU, EI’s affiliate in Colombia for higher education, which is also running a national campaign to raise awareness for the importance of freedom of speech.

Participants congratulated Beltrán with a standing ovation and agreed that international solidarity not only works,  but should prevail as a force to be reckoned with.