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PORTSIDE  July 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE July 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Chilean Students Demand Education Reform

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Thu, 5 Jul 2012 21:18:24 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (182 lines)

Chilean Students Demand Education Reform

Brittany Peterson
June 29, 2012
The Nation
http://www.thenation.com/blog/168676/chilean-students-demand-education-reform

The first raindrops began to leak from the menacing gray
sky over Plaza Italia, in the heart of Santiago, by 9:00
am. Aside from hurried professionals and a few special
force police officers patrolling in pairs and politely
conversing with small groups of students who should have
been in classes, everything appeared calm.

Two hours later, the scene was unrecognizable as a
massive crowd swelled. High school and college students
had marked this national strike, Thursday, June 28, in
their calendars weeks ago. The strike came in the heated
aftermath of four consecutive marches last week, which
included a march by high school students, private
university students, opponents to lithium extraction,
and supporters of sexual diversity.

In addition to high school and college students, the
College of Professors and the United Confederation of
Workers (CUT), among many other groups, colored the
streets with their flags and songs. The march, which
according to its student organizers summoned around
150,000 people, was held to demand an end to
profiteering in education and to call for free and
quality education to all Chilean students--the mantra of
the education movement that has reverberated over the
last year.

Last year's movement regularly drew marches the size of
Thursday's demonstration and involved nationwide
university occupations that lasted up to seven months at
some schools. Teams of students intensely researched
financing methods and student leaders dialoged directly
with President Sebastián Piñera on several occasions in
an attempt to find a solution to reform the education
system.

It came as a shock to students that these months of
mobilization failed to bring significant policy change.
The proposal in April by Education Minister Harald Beyer
for a new university funding plan that would remove
private banks from the loan process and decrease
interest rates from six percent to two percent was
something, but too little, too late, according to the
President of the University of Chile Student Federation
(FECH) Gabriel Boric, who dismissed the reform: "We
don't want to trade debt for debt, which is what the
government is offering us."

Pedro Ciudad, a member of the College of Professors and
a teacher at a public school in the humble Santiago
neighborhood Conchalí, joined Thursday's march. Ciudad
said he has seen the quality of education worsen since
he first began his career in public education 14 years
ago. "Fewer people register in the [public] schools and
the State does not concern itself with public
education," he said. "We have to buy our own pens that
we use in the classroom."

"I never miss class, but this is the moment to miss it
and to be conscious of what is going on in our country
and make the youth conscious. That is the job I have as
a professor," said Ciudad.

María Fernanda Quilaleo, a third year industrial design
student of the Metropolitan Technical University, stood
dressed in costume with her entire family beside her.
"Just like last year, we all come together," said
Quilaleo, who described the march as a cultural
carnival. "I hope some solution will be reached," she
said. "[The government] should invest more resources,
because they are there. They are just mis-distributed."


While a peaceful, colorful march took place on one side
of Alameda, the main road that passes in front of the
presidential palace, a few police vehicles began to
speed threateningly down the other side of the street.
FECH Vice President Camila Vallejo tweeted during the
march, "Police provocations have already begun on Mc
Iver [street name].we have to keep advancing and not
fall into their game."

Soon after, "encapuchados," or delinquents, began to
destroy public property and police responded with water
canons, tear gas, and mass arrests. The march continued
and eventually arrived at a final destination where
student leaders addressed the crowd and Chilean folk
singer Manuel García performed. However, delinquents
caused disruptions there as well increasing tensions
between their ranks and the organized student movement.

After the march, student leaders drenched from the
relentless rain arrived at the presidential palace, La
Moneda, where they presented a letter to President
Piñera that highlighted a five-point list of demands.

"Before a government that appears to cede to the will of
businesses that are robbing thousands of Chilean
families and stealing their dreams, the united student
movement has come today to deliver the horizons of the
movement as well as a series of concrete measures which
we believe can be advanced," said Boric to the press.

One of the movement's main problems is that not all
universities support the CONFECH, the confederation of
all public universities in Chile, which began and
propels the education movement. Particularly, private
universities have felt left out, since many demands
focus on improving public education.

Rodrigo Vergara, President of the Student Federation of
the Silva Henríquez Catholic University, is among the
dissenters. Students at his university, among many
others, occupied their campuses for months and
participated in numerous inter-university discussions
and marches. But, since the few proposed government
reforms largely addressed concerns relevant to the
public universities, Vergara and his peers were left
feeling deeply deceived.

This year, they are focusing their energy on internal
issues rather than continuing collaboration with other
universities. We want to make structural changes
inside," said Vergara. "If we are not able to change
anything inside [the university], what can we achieve
outside of it?"

Regardless of his university's new introspective
strategy, some of their students attended Thursday's
march. Vergara acknowledged that despite this past
semester's latent period for the nationwide education
movement, "this semester there is chance for something
larger, but that depends on how the [police] forces
respond."

Vergara explained that one visual clue of a revitalized
movement is police repression. When this occurs, he said
people feel like there is a crisis in the education
system, but when everything is calm, then the urgency
for change is not felt. "If the government is frightened
by this march, it is evidence that the students are
really committed. If they let them march on and
everything is nice, it is because they are not worried,
they are not uncomfortable, and it is because the kids
aren't committed to the cause--they see it as just a
game."

Time will tell how uncomfortable the current generation
of student activists will make Chile's elite. But,
judging by the sentiment in the streets yesterday, these
students do not intend to go away quitely.

[This is from The Nation's feature section Extra Credit:
Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student
activists and journalists about their campus --
moderator.]

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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