Chile: students occupy schools to demand reform

Students had occupied several of the public high schools in Santiago by the morning of Aug. 10 in the latest protest against the privatization of Chile’s educational system that started under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Chilean high school and university students launched a militant movement in the spring of 2011 to demand free, high-quality public education; current demands also include rejection of the so-called “Hinzpeter Law,” legislation proposed by rightwing president Sebastián Piñera last year to impose severe penalties on people who occupy schools or public or private buildings, or who cause damage in protests. Student actions included some 40 marches in 2011 and five so far this year.

Radio Bío Bío reported on Aug. 10 that Special Forces from the carabineros militarized police used tear gas to remove some 30 students who had been occupying the Santiago Superior Institute of Commerce. The students responded with “rocks, paint and eggs,” according to the radio station, and then “fled and took refuge in the Darío Salas High School,” which remained occupied.

Two days earlier, on Aug. 8, marches sponsored by the Secondary Students Coordinating Assembly (ACES), with support from university student federations, ended violently. Santiago authorities refused the high school students permission to march in the central Alameda (Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins Avenue). When the crowd of 5,000-10,000 protesters tried to use the avenue, they were attacked with tear gas, a water cannon and mounted police. The youths threw rocks at police agents and built barricades; acts of vandalism included the burning of three buses. Some 75 protesters were arrested and 49 agents were reportedly injured. A demonstration in the seaside resort city of Viña del Mar ended with 11 people arrested and a pharmacy and supermarket destroyed. There were also marches in La Serena and Valdivia.

The student demonstrations have regularly ended with vandalism by hooded youths, and student organizers have sometimes suggested that infiltrators were behind the violence. After the Aug. 8 march ACES spokesperson Eloísa González said it was “quite suspicious” that with such a large police deployment it wasn’t possible to prevent the isolated activity of the people involved in setting vehicles on fire. Senator Guido Girardi, from the social democratic Party for Democracy (PPD), said there should be an investigation of why each demonstration involved people who “have the same interest as the government, that violence should be what occupies the pages [of the newspapers] and not the fundamental issue.” (La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 9, from correspondent; EFE, Aug. 9, via Latin American Herald Tribune; Prensa Latina, Aug. 10)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 12.