Chilean students rise again: Protests mark start of school year
March 7, 2013
An estimated 300 people assembled in downtown Santiago on Thursday for the academic year’s first student protest, which quickly turned into a violent confrontation between demonstrators and Chile’s national police force, the Carabineros.
The protest was not authorized by the metropolitan government nor the Carabineros and unlike many student marches, was not organized by the umbrella student organization Confech. Simultaneous demonstrations also took place in Concepción, Valparaíso and Valdivia.
Soon after the protest commenced, police urged the demonstrators through megaphones to disperse from near the Manuel Rodríguez monument in Plaza Baquedano. However, a minority of hooded youths, nicknamed “encapuchados” in Chile, forced the amassed Carabineros into action by throwing rocks and other missiles. The chaos that followed saw student groups fleeing from the resulting tear gas, paintballs and water cannons released from surrounding armored police vehicles.
The retreating students chanted in unison “Chilean education is not for sale” and “the education system of Pinochet will fall,” in reference to the defunct dictator who established the current educational framework.
In a bizarre confrontation, musicians playing saxophones and clarinets, accompanied by several female belly dancers, performed just feet away from the assembled riot police in an act of defiance that was met with amusement from the surrounding hordes of students.
The gathered demonstrators lashed out at the highly privatized Chilean higher education system and its inaccessibility for poorer students.
“What we want is an end to profits and free access to high quality education,” said one participant.
Another young protester, Iván, went further and argued that the ongoing demonstrations reflected a wider discontent regarding Chile’s deep-seated “financial inequality between rich and poor.”
Official figures released by Carabineros claim that 30 students were arrested during the protests. Unknown demonstrators also reportedly threw stones and left graffiti on the office of conservative presidential candidate Laurence Golborne.
Chile’s education system has long been criticized for its high costs, long duration and low levels of public funding, which leaves many graduates with crippling debts. Wednesday’s demonstration is just the most recent within a student movement that sprung to life in 2011, demanding a fairer and more accessible education framework in the country.