BOGOTA, Colombia — Education for every Colombian should be a right, not a service, says Gloria Inés Ramirez.

The 48-year-old trade union leader is the Senate candidate of the Colombian Communist Party in next year’s election.

As a leader of Colombia’s teachers union, Ramirez brought together parents, teachers and students in support of a 2001 national strike that lasted 45 days. The issue was a proposed modification to the constitution that would have provided less money for public education, Ramirez explained, speaking in an interview during a break in the Communist Party convention here June 5.

“The government wanted to leave the 10th and 11th grade without public funding,” she said. The hard-fought struggle succeeded in creating “a public opinion to defend education,” she said proudly.

Ramirez began her career teaching physics and math at both primary and secondary levels, working in poor neighborhoods. She moved up through the union to become president at the regional and then national level of Federación Colombiana de Educadores. She currently serves on the executive board of the nation’s largest trade union federation, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT.

Teachers in Colombia are concerned about some of the same issues as those in the U.S. Ramirez mentioned low pay, pensions and “respect” — especially respect for them as professionals to do their work.

It’s easy to see why Ramirez’s supporters are so confident of her victory. Time ran out in our interview as one after another of the women delegates came over to greet Ramirez. One had brought handpicked native flowers tied with a string. Each greeter received a warm personal response and hug from the dynamic Communist and trade union leader.

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