May 2012, Week 4


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Sun, 27 May 2012 22:13:32 -0400
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From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
by Andrew Gavin Marshall
The Media Coop
May 18, 2012

On the night of May 16, thousands of Montréal students
and supporters took to the streets for the 23rd
consecutive night of protests, this time spurred on by
the Government of Québec's announcement that it would
legislate an end to the 14-week student strike which has
gripped Quebec for the past three months. The
government's proposed bill would "impose strict
conditions on students wanting to demonstrate against
the planned tuition fee hikes," which could "include
stiff fines against anyone attempting to block entrances
to the colleges and universities." Québec Premier Jean
Charest announced that the current school session will
be postponed by the government, "We are suspending the
session. We are not cancelling it ... This will allow us
to finish the session in August and September." Students
warned that they would challenge the law in court "if
the legislation limits their right to demonstrate and to
block classes if the majority of members of a school or
student association votes to do so."

Gabriel nadeau-Dubois, the 21-year old spokesperson for
the largest student association, CLASSE, representing
over half of the 160,000 striking students, stated that,
"The bill that the government is proposing to table is
an anti-union law, it is authoritarian, repressive and
breaks the students' right to strike... This is a
government that prefers to hit on its youth, ridicule
its youth rather than listen to them." As thousands
poured into the streets of Montréal to oppose the
government's plan, they were again met with riot police,
and as violence broke out after what was a peaceful
protest was declared "illegal" by the police, 122
protesters were arrested. Only a few of the 122 arrested
protesters are being charged with assaulting officers,
while the rest are being charged with taking part in an
"illegal protest." Riot police charged the crowd and
broke the protest up into smaller units, which police
then cornered and followed, using pepper spray and flash
bang grenades, as well as beating students with batons.

Earlier on the same day of May 16, nearly 9,000 km away
from Montréal, roughly 100,000 students and supporters
took to the streets in Santiago, Chile, in the second
major demonstration of the new year, bringing a
resurgence to the student movement that began one year
ago, in May of 2011, the students were mobilized by the
Student Confederation of Chile (CONFECH), a
confederation of all the student unions from public
universities (as well as some private ones), and the
oldest individual union, the Student Federation of the
University of Chile (FECH). These usions collectively
rallied the students against the most expensive
educational system among the OECD nations, a largely
privatized system of education brought in by Chile's
former military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who came to
power in 1973 with CIA support. Gabriel Boric, the 26-
year old student leader of the FECH and spokesperson for
CONFECH declared, "We are more than 100,000 people. We
are giving again a clear sign to the government that the
student movement, after a year, stands up on its feet
and will not rest. We are still in the fight." Boric
added, "We will keep on being rebels, because the
student movement is not going to settle for a few
excesses having been corrected. We want to fix all of
them." The Chilean government has submitted three
different proposals to the students in the past year,
all of which did not satisfy the student movement as
they were mere concessions which did not address the
main issue of an unfair social, political, and economic
system, demanding a free, quality public education
system for all Chileans. Boric stated, "This government
has been unable to respond to the students' basic

The protests of May 16, 2012 turned violent with clashes
between students and riot police, leading to the arrest
of 70 students in Santiago. This was the second major
student demonstration of this year, following roughly 40
demonstrations across the country in 2011. The riot
police responded to the student protest with tear gas
and water cannons. On March 15, Santiago was host to the
first major student demonstration of the year in which
several thousand students took to the streets, and
clashes erupted with riot police, leading to 50 arrests.
Incidentally, on March 15 in Montréal, students and
others took part in a protest against police brutality
which ended in violence and the arrest of over 200

The Chilean government has consistently attempted to
both repress - through state violence - and undermine -
through minor legislative concessions - the student
movement which has identified the necessity of change in
the social, political, and economic system itself.
Despite a year of protests, the former student leader of
FECH, 24-year old Camilla Vallejo, who led the student
movement until she was replaced by Boric in student
elections in November of 2011, commented on the student
movement: "In concrete terms, you could say we have
accomplished little or nothing... But in broad strokes,
the student movement has made a break in Chilean
society. There's a before and after 2011, and we're
talking about issues that were taboo in Chile for the
first time."

On May 14, Québec's Education Minister Line Beauchamp
resigned, stating, "I am resigning because I no longer
believe I'm part of the solution." This followed
revelations that Line Beauchamp attended a Liberal Party
fundraiser at which she accepted donations from a known
Montréal mafioso. Québec has been embroiled for years in
a controversy over the corrupt construction industry,
which is heavily controlled by the Mafia and gets
massively over-valued public contracts from city and
provincial governments. Beauchamp has not been the only
such casuality in Premier Jean Charest's cabinet. Back
in September of 2011, Jean Charest's Deputy Premier,
Nathalie Normandeau, who was also Québec's Natural
Resources Minister, resigned amid controversy. She too,
has been implicated in corruption scandals related to
the Mafia.

Roughly a month after the student protests began in
Chile, the Education Minister Joaquin Lavin resigned in
July of 2011. He was replaced with Felipe Bulnes, who in
turn resigned in December of 2011, in the midst of the
persistent student movement. Bulnes had attempted to
calm student protests by granting increased access to
credit and "improved supervision of universities."
Bulnes was then replaced with Harald Beyer. Just as
Bulnes resigned, following revelations that he had
strong ties to a private university in Santiago (and
thus, a personal interest in defending the privatized
education system), the Agriculture Minister Jose Antonio
Galilea also resigned. In late March of 2012, Chile's
Energy Minister Rodrigo Alvarez resigned following two
months of protests in the southern region of Aysen over
increased fuel prices.

As Quebec's Natural Resources Minister (until her
resignation in September 2011), Nathalie Normandeau was
responsible for introducing 'Plan Nord' (Northern Plan),
an $80 billion economic development program to exploit
the resources of northern Québec through public and
private investments. The Plan includes invesments in
mining, forestry, transportation, and gas, and is
drawing interest from multinational corporations around
the world. Plan Nord was announced by Normandeau and
Premier Jean Charest in May of 2011, at which Charest
stated, "On the political level, this is one of the best
moments of my life." He added, "This is one of the
reasons I got involved in politics." Tha Plan envisions
11 new mining projects in the next few years, with
billions being spent by the government on developing
infrastructure and roads for transportation. The mining
industry applauded Charest, but incited concern from
environmental groups and First Nations representatives.
In April of 2012, a group of First Nations Innu women
walked from the North to Montreal to protest against
Plan Nord, arriving in the city for the meeting to
promote Plan Nord on April 20-21. On April 20, First
Nations women gathered to protest the meeting, and were
joined by student protesters outside the Palais des
congrès in downtown Montreal. The protesters were met
with riot police, sound grenades, tear gas, and batons,
and roughly 90 protesters were arrested.

Back in May of 2011, just as the Québec government was
announcing its plans for Plan Nord, the Chilean
government announced the approval of the HidroAysen
project, to be Chile's largest power generator, drawing
protests from hundreds of people. The project "involves
five dams and a 1,900 kilometer (1,180 mile)
transmission line to feed the central grid that supplies
Santiago and surrounding cities as well as copper mines
owned by Codelco and Anglo American Plc." The project
provoked increased anger from residents of the region,
as well as conservationists and other activists.
Opponents of the project filed legal injunctions and an
appeals court suspended the HidroAysen project in June
of 2011. It was at this time that the student movement
in Chile began to emerge rapidly. In October, a local
appeals court rejected the seven lawsuits aginst the
project and gave the green light to resume work. In
December, a legal appeal against the project was taken
to Chile's Supreme Court. In April of 2012, the Supreme
Court rejected the seven appeals against the project.
This sparked major protests over the court's decision,
met with riot police repression. The increased demand
for energy comes from the rapidly growing Chilean mining
industry, of which Canadian mining companies are the
largest foreign investment source.

Protests erupted in the southern Chilean region of Aysen
in February of 2012, where the cost of living is
significantly higher than in the north (due to the
remoteness of the Patagonian region) and thus, the costs
of fuel, food, health care and education were greater
than elsewhere. Protesters fought almost nightly battles
with riot police, even setting up barricades and
throwing rocks at police, who used water cannons and
tear gas on the protesters. One protester even lost an
eye during the confrontations, reportedly by being shot
by the police. Supporters took to the streets in
Santiago in solidairty with those struggling in Aysen,
also clashing with police. In March, the protesters
lifted roadblocks to hold negotiations with the
government and the more than thirty social organizations
participating in the protests. It was after the
negotiations that Energy Minister Alvarez resigned,
stating that he was excluded from the talks. In late
March, the government announced plans to create better
conditions in the Aysen region.

In April of 2012, Chile was experiencing protests
against a thermoelectric plant and mining, largely
participated in by Chileans of indigenous descent, and
students took back to the streets in Santiago in the
tens of thousands. Across Quebec, students escalated
protests throughout the month of April, and united
indigenous, environmental and student activists in
protest against Plan Nord. On April 25, tens of
thousands of Chilean students took to the streets in
Santiago, protesting the government's education "reform"
proposal, which was grossly inadequate. On the very same
day, April 25, roughly 5,000 student protesters in
Montreal demonstrated against the government's
cancellation of negotiations with the student leaders.
Earlier in that same month, Chilean President Pinera and
Canadian Prime Minister Harper met in Chile to expand
the free trade agreement between the two countries. The
student movements were not up for discussion.

In Chile, the student movement and its wider social
development with environmental, labour, and other
activist groups has been referred to as the "Chilean
Winter." In Quebec, the student movement, with its wider
social development with labour, environmental, and other
activist organizations, has been referred to as the
'Maple Spring." Both movements, while maintaining their
own specifics, are ultimately mobilized around a
struggle against neoliberalism, against austerity, and
against a social, political, and economic system which
has ruled the world for the few and at the expense of
the many.

For both of these movements to move forward, it is
important to not only promote informal acts and
statements of solidarity between the two movements, but
to begin establishing direct and indirect ties between
the movements: establishing connections between the
student associations, coordinating days of major protest
actions, protesting mining companies that exploit both
the North of Quebec and the South of Chile, creating
student-run news outlets which share information between
each other, undertake student-activist exchanges between
the two countries; but first and foremost, it is
important to educate the students in Quebec about what
is taking place in Chile, and the students in Chile
about what is taking place in Quebec. That is the basis
for all other forms of cooperation.

So from the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring

Solidarity, solidarité, solidaridad! 


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