Chile: police attack student marchers

After protesting for several weeks with no answer to their demands, on May 18 more than 1,000 Chilean high school students demonstrated in Santiago to press for free public transportation, free university entrance exams and improvements in the quality of public education. Agents of the militarized Carabineros police arrested at least 560 students and used tear gas and water cannons to evict a group of students who had taken refuge in the University of Chile law school. Another 244 students were arrested in similar protests in other cities, including Arica and Calama in the north, Valparaiso and Concepcion in the central region, and Temuco and Puerto Montt in the south. (Clarin, Argentina, May 18; Cadena 3, Argentina, May 19) More than 50 students were arrested in a previous protest in Santiago on May 12, and a young Argentine citizen was expelled by the Chilean government. (Pulsar, May6 12 via Resumen Latinamericano)

On May 19, with the support of parents and some teachers, students responded to the previous day’s attack by occupying two large schools in Santiago, the National Institute and Application High School. “Since the Carabineros repress us brutally in the streets when we try to stand up for our rights, we have decided to do it from inside the schools so they can’t accuse us of instigating violence,” student spokespeople told Cuban news service Prensa Latina. The schools remained occupied as of May 20; students were hoping President Michelle Bachelet would respond to their demands when she delivered her first “report to the nation” to the parliament in Valparaiso on May 21. Santiago mayor Raul Alcaino promised that police would not evict the students from the schools over the weekend. (PL, May 20)

At least 60 people were arrested on May 21 in Valparaiso as some 2,000 students and workers joined in protesting the government during Bachelet’s speech there. The demonstration was permitted, but Carabineros claimed protesters used Molotov bombs and tear gas bombs which they allegedly stole from police. Deputy interior secretary Felipe Harboe told reporters the police were forced to respond with water cannons and tear gas to control violent demonstrators. The marchers were demanding solutions to the education crisis and also freedom for Mapuche political prisoners. The Communist Party (PC) organized the march; PC secretary general Guillermo Teillier accused police of having acted “with unusual violence and having detained people who were walking peacefully.” (EFE, May 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 21

See our last post on Chile.