Chile: education protests continue to grow
With chants of "An educated people will never be deceived" and "We want a free, quality education," tens of thousands of Chilean students, parents and teachers took to the streets on June 30 in the latest protest against the privatized education system set up under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Giorgio Jackson, president of the Federation of Catholic University Students (FEUC), estimated that 200,000 people took part in the demonstration in Santiago, while Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) president Camila Vallejo put the number at more than 300,000. By most accounts the Santiago protest was twice the size of a June 16 march that local media had called the largest since the return of democracy 21 years ago.
The Santiago march was only part of the day's action. Organizers said 200,000 protesters marched in other cities around the education demands; meanwhile, students have occupied some 200 schools and 30 universities over the last three weeks. More and more people from different sectors of Chilean society were joining the movement, FECH president Vallejo said. "Each time we have more support."
Violence broke out at the end of the Santiago march when groups of youths tried to loot downtown stores. The police used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd. At least 38 protesters were arrested and some 20 police agents were injured, according to the authorities. Protest organizers denied responsibility for the violence. "I feel that a large percentage of these people wearing hoods are infiltrators," Vallejo had told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina the day before the demonstration. She noted that Chile had a history of the use of provocateurs.
Rightwing president Sebastián Piñera responded to the protests by saying that "the strikes, the demonstrations are legal, but education isn't improved with strikes or demonstrations." (La Tercera, Santiago, June 30; La Jornada, Mexico, July 1, from correspondent; Prensa Latina, June 29)
After a July 2 meeting at the University of the Frontier (UFRO) in Temuco, capital of the Araucanía region in central Chile, the approximately 30 organizations in the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH) announced plans for another strike and day of protests on July 14. FEUC Jackson noted that the Federation of Mapuche Students had participated in the meeting and that the movement's demands now included a call for new scholarships and greater enrollment of indigenous students along with respect for cultural differences in the schools. The Mapuche are Chile's largest indigenous group. (PL, July 3)