Chile: students restart marches for school reform

Tens of thousands of Chilean college and high school students marched in Santiago on May 8 in the first major demonstration for educational reform since President Michelle Bachelet began her second term on March 11. Bachelet, a Socialist, has promised to make changes to the educational system, which was heavily privatized during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet; the protest was intended to pressure her to honor her commitments, which students also criticized as too vague. The organizers estimated the crowd at 100,000, while the carabineros militarized police put the number at 40,000. There were also protests in other cities; some 4,000 students marched in Valparaíso and 3,000 in Concepción. The Santiago march ended with isolated acts of violence by hooded youths.

The marchers included several Congress members who had been student leaders in 2011, when the massive demonstrations began during the administration of conservative president Sebastián Piñera: Camila Vallejo from the Communist Party of Chile (PCC), Giorgio Jackson from Democratic Revolution (PD) and Gabriel Boric, an independent. "We're no longer the representatives of the student movement," said Vallejo, who like the other former student leaders was elected in November 2013, "so we're only here to support, but we'll have one foot in Congress and the other in the streets with the students." (Télam, Argentina, May 8)

In other news, as of May 7 three Mapuche prisoners incarcerated in Angol, the capital of Malleco province, were still on a hunger strike that the indigenous activists began on April 10 to push for a review of their sentences and a pardon for a fourth prisoner, José Mariano Llanca, who they say is terminally ill. Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez met on May 6 with the prisoners' representatives in response to a sit-in their relatives held at the prison on May 3, but the representatives reported that there had been no progress in the talks. The prisoners, Cristian Pablo Levinao Melinao, Luis Humberto Marileo Cariqueo and Leonardo Eusebio Quijón Pereira, said they would continue their fast. (ALER, Madrid and Quito, May 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 11.