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Latino Daily News

Wednesday August 10, 2011

Government Silence Prompts New Wave of Protests in Chile (VIDEO)

Close to 400 students were arrested yesterday when the peaceful pot-banging protests turned to looting, arson and violence. Image

Authorities said 55 police-men and 23 civilians were wounded during the protests.

At least 15,000 Chilean students (mostly high school aged) rallied in Santiago alone, and some 500,000 nation wide demanding a better education policy.

ImageLast Thursday, the student organization Confech that has been organizing the marches, gave the Chilean government six days to give them a “real answer” to their petitions. So far, the government has refused to negotiate.

During the more than two months that Chilean students have been in protest, schools have been taken over, students refuse to attend classes, and numerous demonstrations have been staged in hopes to permeating the Chilean education system and public opinion and laying the grounds for crucial changes in the way the Chilean government finances public education. Image

Because of failed bureaucratic schemes and the destruction left behind from last year’s earthquake and tsunami, underfunded municipalities have been left in charge of high school education nationwide.  As a result, most schools struggle for resources, while wealthy private schools that cater to Chile’s small upper class, receive first class resources and can afford to bring their institutions to standards needed to opt for further investment, or financial incentives.

Students are demanding transparency in the financial affairs of education and an increase on the percentage of the gross domestic product that goes into education, as well as equal access to quality education for everyone, with no distinctions between rich, poor, young, old or disabled.

Also on the table are petitions to the education ministry to assume the cost of the public transportation of students and to examine the current student loan repayment plans, interest rates and scholarship programs.

Last week police arrested some 900 students marching in Santiago, after the government banned the protests. During yesterday’s march, students flooded the alleys and side streets of the capital in an effort to abide to the government’s ban on protesting in the city’s main avenues.

Demonstrations during the last few months have been for the most part peaceful, with students dancing, singing, banging on pots and pans, waving banners, and staging clever performance protests, like dancing Michael Jackson’s Thriller in masse, dressed as zombies, symbolizing the “rotten” government officials in office. Image

Lately, marches have tended to turn awry as the government urges police to dissipate the crowds, or when opportunists use the momentary chaos caused by a quarter of a million people concentrated in the streets to loot, riot and vandalize.

Despite not having offered solutions, alternatives or any kind of answers to the students, Education Minister Felipe Bulnes is concerned about the thousands of students that face failing the school year, as they are either protesting, or unable to attend classes because their schools have been taken over. 

Bulnes released a plan on Wednesday, with three alternatives for students to keep up their grades. Image

One, for students in schools that have been taken over to resume their schooling sharing infrastructures with schools that have not been taken over.

The second option would be for some of these schools to begin operating in alternate locations, like gyms, or libraries. Image

In case none of the other options can be put into practice, Bulnes suggested that students be allowed to study on their own at home, and take a test at the end of the year to determine their transition onto the next grade.