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Latino Daily News

Saturday October 19, 2013

Chilean Students March in Santiago Ahead of Elections

Chilean Students March in Santiago Ahead of Elections

Photo: Chilean protests

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Thousands of students marched in the capital on Thursday to demand changes to the education system and a bigger say in decision-making a month before Chileans go to the polls to choose a new president and Congress.

The sixth major student demonstration of 2013 was largely peaceful, marred only by clashes between police and small group of hooded militants.

Turnout was smaller than for last month’s mobilization.

Police said the crowd numbered 18,000, but organizers said some 50,000 marched to demand an end to the educational system inherited from late dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Leaders of the student movement also asked the candidates vying for the presidency in the Nov. 17 election to provide specifics of their education proposals.

The two serious contenders, center-left former President Michelle Bachelet and rightist Evelyn Matthei, have so far limited themselves to vague platitudes, according to Diego Vela, president of the students federation at Universidad Catolica.

Matthei seems to want to “deepen” the current model, Vela said, adding that while Bachelet, who governed from 2006-2010, says some positive things, she has yet to offer concrete proposals.

Regardless of who is president, the students will continue to agitate until they achieve their goals, Vela said.

Pinochet, who led the bloody Sept. 11, 1973, coup that removed elected President Salvador Allende, pursued free-market fundamentalism and privatization during his repressive 17-year rule.

He reshaped Chile’s education system in 1981, slashing government support for public schools and giving municipalities control over how to spend the reduced amounts coming from Santiago.

Private schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored in 1990.

In 2011, Chilean students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times to denounce a system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.

After a relatively subdued 2012, the Chilean student movement is hoping to exert influence on this year’s presidential and congressional elections.

Students want the elimination of school fees, an end to for-profit universities - technically illegal but able to operate thanks to loopholes - and a reduction in the high cost of college, which forces many to take on crushing debt.

Polls show that roughly 85 percent of Chileans support their demands.

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