News | 06/08/2011
Thursday 4-8: Two student demonstrations were scheduled for this day in Santiago, starting from Plaza Italia, one at 10:30 and the other would be at 18:30. The students demanded changes in the education system such as the end of profit-making at schools and universities (in Chile most of the schools and universities require payment of monthly fees) and reform of its unequal policies.
Students, teachers and other public sector workers have organised huge street demonstrations in recent months, with as many as 100,000 people participating demanding fundamental changes in laws and policies that were set up under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, a regime responsible for leaving public schools at the mercy of underfunded municipalities. Outrage against the neoliberal government of Sebastiàn Piñera is growing. Polls show that he is more unpopular than any leader since the fall of Pinochet. According to the Guardian “An opinion poll on Thursday put Piñera’s popularity at 26%. Opposition coalition La Concertacion had an approval rating of just 16% as the range of popular complaints appears to grow daily.”
This very popular movement is called “The Chilean winter,” organised largely through Facebook and Twitter websites and was mainly inspired by the Arab Spring. But the government does not seem willing to give up. “On June 1st, more than 25,000 students, lecturers and parents took to the streets of the capital Santiago to protest for an increase in public funding for education as well as to resist the increasing privatisation within the education system” claims the “International Student Movement”. PMs are constantly threatening to prevent demonstrations. One day before, the Interior Minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter and other Chilean authorities had warned that this march was considered illegal and would be repressed. On the morning of 4th of Auginst, the police did not even let people to gather. Camila Vallejo, the University Student Leader heavily condemned the actions of the police saying that “the centre of Santiago is in a state of siege. The right to congregate has been violated”, something that reminds the days of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.
Nevertheless, the students defied the ban and marched anyway, while groups of dozens set up barricades in various parts of the city in order to fend off the attacks of the riot police that was using water canons and tear gases. Protesters responded with stones, paint bombs and Molotov coctails.
In the afternoon the police plan was not very different than in the morning. Again they responded with tear gases and canons with chemicals to disperse protesters in Plaza Italia. As groups of protesters were moving, assembling barricades and confronting repression, on several occasions police were overwhelmed by masked youths. This was repeated in streets near Avenues Mall, Providencia and Vicuña Mackenna, where the cut points with barricades multiplied from small groups to almost one hundred people. The street fighting lasted until about 24:00 local time. Police forces could not respond to the decentralization of the protests.
Riots also took place in several other cities, including Antofagasta in the north and Concepcion in the south, clashes and barricades. In Valparaiso, one of the events that attracted the most attention was a water cannon truck that suffered mechanical failure in the middle of the fighting, and became the focal point for many protesters. Bank branches were also attacked, together with some offices of “Chilquinta” electricity company.
As The Guardian reports:
After being teargassed on Thursday, Vallejo called on citizens to show support for the striking students by banging pots and pans at 9pm – a reminder of the call to the streets used in the Pinochet era. Her call spread like wildfire on social networks and led to a night of clanging celebrations, spontaneous street festivals and a national realisation that Chile is living a historical moment, with a movement that cuts across traditional social and class boundaries.
Arrested and wounded
The number of arrests reaches the 874 nationwide, and 559 in Santiago alone. The large number of arrests is due to repressive police tactics; anyone who looked “suspicious” of wanting to demonstrate were boarded on buses and taken to police stations. Of this total, 31 were charged with disorders, damage to public property and possession of incendiary material.
It is not possible to quantify the amount of people injured, but certainly it should be enough as a result of police action that used sticks, shooted rubber bullets (not to be confused with pellets as has happened) and even threw stones at demonstrators.
The International Students Movement has outlined the story of student’s strike in the country:
Since the “return of democracy”, the Chilean Education System has been based on a law (LOCE), which was created by Pinochet’s economists, the “Chicago Boys“. Since then education has been totally polarised between public and private education. Therefore there is education for the rich people on one hand and different education for the poor on the other.
In 2006, a great student movement (“La Revolución Píngüina“), put an end to this law. But the political coalition called “La Concertación” (consisting of political parties ranging from the “Communist Party” to the “Christian Democratic Party”), educational corporations and right-wing parties created a new Law (LGE), that was mostly the same thing as the old one. This was a huge set-back for the student movement. Since then the political parties have been pushing back any new movement, to validate their new law.
Right now, in the year 2011, most university students (2006 was a mostly public school movement) have been trying to bring back a new movement, but with the direction of the JJCC (“Juventudes Comunistas”, Communist Youth) that are part of “La Concentración”. Therefore these protests are more to be understood as a reaction to the ruling right-wing goverment (first one since the military coup) which they have started.
The Federation of University Students of Chile (CONFECH) consists of all the student federations at each university put together (FECH, FEUSACH, etc…). There is a big discussion going on about the real representation this confederation has, because their formal demands (“petitorio”) are very different and not very clear, in comparison with the more local discussions and demands (in general, FREE EDUCATION is the demand at the base assemblies, meanwhile lower cost (without explaining how much) is the demand of the CONFECH). That’s how it is right now. And the movement is being slowed down. The student leaders now have a “table of discussion” with the government, same as they had in 2006 (CAP). School students are also trying to bring together their movements, but they were even attackedby the JJCC in a public act, which was held by the FECH (Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile).
Looking at the current situation and the whole context, there are many possible outcomes. The movement can overcome their leaders, and try to stand with their real demands, or, it could be the end of the movement, with the discussion of more patch solutions, like more scholarships and reducing the credit tax (instead of fighting the logic of the destructive credit system within education, because it’s a right, not a privilege).
There are also other problems. For example private universities are beginning to get organized (80% of university studies are held in private universities in Chile), and there are two totally different movements that are growing. One movement is asking for more rights (like the right to organize in private universities and professional institutions), and another one, that is demanding that private education has the same right to “compete in the market of education”, and therefore should also receive funding by the state. And again, the JJCC and FECH have a lot of problems with the first group of students,because they are being discriminated (they say they can’t be part of the confederation (CONFECH), because they are private establishments), and this has been something that also hasn’t allowed the movement to move forward.
Hopefully, the movement will start to grow, base assemblies are planing to come together with other social sectors, like worker unions, social organization, and private educational organizations, to make a great popular movement for education.
Below: The 4th of August riots in Photos (from Liberacion Total)
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