Latin America: students hold first continental march for education

Tens of thousands of students marched in more than a dozen Latin American cities on Nov. 24 in the Latin American March for Education, a coordinated regional demonstration to support free and high-quality public education. The mobilization was planned by Chilean and Colombian students earlier in the month, but by Nov. 24 it had spread to include actions in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Participants stressed that students had similar demands throughout the region and were also united in their support for the movement in Chile.

The Nov. 24 march was the 42nd day of mass mobilization for Chilean students, who began protesting last spring against the privatization of the educational system under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). Confrontations between students and the carabineros militarized police broke out in parts of Santiago early on Nov. 24 as youths tried to march without permits in the capital’s downtown area. The local government authorized a march in the evening that drew as many as 40,000 participants, according to some estimates, but the police attacked the marchers with tear gas and water cannons when the permit expired at 8 pm. A total of 58 youths were arrested in the day’s demonstrations; another 30 youths were arrested when the police ended a student occupation at the Darío Salas high school.

Tens of thousands joined the Nov. 24 protests in Colombia‘s main cities. Despite a light rain, students marched from at least seven meeting points in Bogotá, monitored by some 2,500 police agents. There were isolated incidents, resulting in 11 arrests. Colombian students had suspended their own month-old strike on Nov. 17 after the government withdrew a proposal for changes to the educational system, but they marched on Nov. 24 “in solidarity with the student movement in Chile and in all of Latin America,” according to university student Laura Jaramillo. She added that the protest would also remind President Juan Manuel Santos that Colombia’s students remain mobilized. (Inter Press Service, Nov. 25; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 25, from correspondent, Nov. 25, from PL, AFP, DPA, Notimex)

Some 5,000 Honduran students marched through the streets of Tegucigalpa in a protest led by former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) and backed by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a grassroots coalition that formed after a June 2009 military coup removed Zelaya from office. The Honduran march focused on violence against students, in particular the Oct. 22 murder of two university students, Alejandro Rafael Vargas Castellanos and Carlos David Pineda Rodríguez, apparently by a group of police agents with criminal connections. Vargas Castellanos’ mother is Julieta Castellanos, the rector of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), and she led the UNAH contingent at the march. In the spring of 2010 Julieta Castellanos was the target of a hunger strike by FNRP supporters because of layoffs of teachers at the university, but now she has become a prominent figure in the movement to purge the police of corrupt agents. (AFP, Nov. 24, via La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 27.

See our last post on Latin American student protests.