Chile: student strikers march as president makes UN speech

Chilean students took to the streets on Sept. 22 to push their demands for free public education and a reversal of the privatization policies started under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Organizers estimated that 180,000 people marched in Santiago, with thousands more protesting in major cities like Concepción, Talca, Temuco and Valparaíso, making the protest one of the larger demonstrations in the nearly four months since secondary and university students began striking at their schools. Following a familiar pattern, the march was generally peaceful until a confrontation started between the police and a few hooded youths at the end of the route. About 50 arrests were reported.

“We’ve shut this government up,” Camilo Ballesteros, president of the Federation of Santiago de Chile University Students (FEUSACH), said at the conclusion of the march, near the La Moneda presidential palace. “We’ve got this park filled with students, filled with conviction and happiness.” Analysts had suggested that the movement was ebbing when just 10,000 people came out for a march a week earlier. Andrés Chadwick, spokesperson for rightwing president Sebastián Piñera, responded to the massive turnout on Sept. 22 by saying “a bigger or smaller march isn’t going to change the basic concern of the government” to resolve the issues through dialogue.

President Piñera himself was in New York on Sept. 22 to address the United Nations General Assembly. His government was ready for “the greatest reform, and it has promised the greatest economic, human, professional and technical resources for advancing towards a true revolution in our educational system,” he told the delegates, promising coverage for vulnerable sectors of the population and free schooling for those who need it. (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 23)

Three students from the Darío Salas High School in Santiago were hospitalized on Sept. 23 due to the effects of a two-month hunger strike in support of the movement’s demands. Cristián Silva, a spokesperson for the strikers, said their health was in a delicate state but they were ready to resume the fast once their condition was stabilized. Eight students remain on hunger strike at High School A-131 in the city of Buin, in Maipo province, part of Greater Santiago. There have been hunger strikes at about 30 schools in the Santiago area. (TeleSUR, Sept. 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 25.

See our last post on Chile.