[News] Chile’s Largest Protests Since the Fall of Pinochet

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 12 15:25:13 EDT 2006

Student Mobilizations Produce Chile’s Largest 
Protests Since the Fall of Pinochet


While President Bachelet Cracks Down on 
Demonstrators, Chilean People Reject Neoliberal 
Education Policies Created By U.S.-Backed Dictatorship

By Liz Munsell
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

June 9, 2006

VALPARAÍSO, CHILE: 800,000 high school and 
college students persist in a fourth week of 
strikes throughout Chile while student leaders 
attempt to reach an agreement with the Ministry 
of Education over their complex set of demands. 
What began in May as set of requests for free id 
cards, public transportation and more accessible 
prices for Chile’s college entrance exam has 
since grown into the largest mobilization the 
country has seen since the protests that ended 
military rule in the late eighties. Secondary 
school students on strike were joined by 
university students last week as both an act of 
solidarity and a way to push their own demands. 
While university student are participating in 
strikes and marches the face of the movement and 
the force behind it are los secudarios – 
secondary school students, age 13–18. A poll 
taken following Monday’s general nation-wide 
strike shows that the secondary school movement 
enjoys an 87 percent approval rating from their 
compatriots, while only 16 percent of Chileans 
support the presidency’s response to the 
mobilization. With this political leverage in 
hand, the generation that was born into a 
democratic, post-Pinochet Chile is demanding a 
reform of education policies created by the 
dictatorship that remain in place today.

Student and worker mobilizations typically 
develop every May in response to the president’s 
annual address on the 21st. This year, however, 
the price of copper (one of the few state 
industries not privatized under 
Pinochet, now accounting for about half the 
country’s exports) prices hit record levels, 
producing a large trade and budget surplus for 
the government. This raised Chileans’ 
expectations for what the newly elected executive 
government can and should provide in response to 
their demands. Workers in the health field also 
went on strike last week, inquiring about 
resources owed to them by government. In 
Valparaíso, employees of LIDER, Chile’s largest 
department store, marched alongside students 
during Monday’s general strike. Also present were 
several indigenous Mapuches bearing their 
nation’s flag, who were thanked for their 
presence and offered solidarity with their 
political prisoners in a speech by student leaders.

Following the non-violent march of 14,000 in the 
streets of Valparaíso, one of various new 
stencils spray-painted around the city reads loud 
and clear, “Bachelet ­ give up the money for free 
education.” Beyond street art, the strategies 
that the current secondary school movement is 
employing are forms of protest that have a 
history in Chile. During the dictatorship of 
1973-1990, schools and universities were the only 
spaces that enjoyed any kind of legal protection 
from police and military intervention. Only a 
school or university’s rector can grant 
permission to police to enter school premises; 
for this reason, during Pinochet’s rule, rectors 
were often appointed by the dictatorship. School 
tomas, or take-overs, in the eighties typically 
lasted for a matter of hours before rectors 
authorized police to enter the building, often 
resulting in on-site violence and the 
imprisonment and torture of students as young as 
14 years old. According to one participant in the 
first school toma that took place during the 
dictatorship, this strategy of protest “was 
transmitted orally, through 
through the memories of the youth of the eighties 
who are the parents of the youth today.” With 
this political consciousness present, students 
have occupied 46.7 percent of secondary schools 
throughout the country in the last two weeks.

Although inside their schools student have 
received more petty threats from neo-nazi groups 
than they have from police, on the streets of 
Santiago the “special armed forces,” or riot 
cops, have reacted harshly to student protests. 
Over 1,000 students have been arrested in 
Santiago in the past two weeks and police have 
used their traditional tactics of tear gas and 
tanks equipped with contaminated water to force 
protestors away from a march or action. Despite 
president Michelle Bachelet’s dismissal of the 
chief of police responsible for ordering acts of 
police brutality that occurred on May 30th, 
violence has persisted in the capital. An 
Santiago post reported that even police who have 
been “sanctioned” by the government continue to 
repress marched in the center of Santiago. On 
June 5th Indymedia collaborating journalist Jorge 
Zúñiga San Martín was hit in the head by police 
and dragged to shelter in the Universidad de 
Chile by students participating in the 
demonstration. While student leaders in Santiago 
requested that students remain in their schools 
for the Monday’s national strike in order to 
avoid potential police conflicts, 20,000 took to the streets downtown.

Behind the locked the gates of their schools, 
students have been organizing both the practical 
aspects of living on campus and caring for each 
others’ needs, as well as the future of their 
movement. In Valparaíso’s municipal school Liceo 
B-30, students take turns occupying their 
building, ensuring that at least 30 students are 
inside during day. The 10 students with the most 
understanding parents sleep over at night. They 
take turns shopping, cooking and soliciting 
donations for food. They’ve even dragged a stereo 
system into school premises, ensuring that sound 
waves of reggaetón fill the space of the nearly 
empty halls. A vast majority of the youths’ time 
is spent in discussion of the movement’s course 
and in the basic maintenance of cleaning and caring for their school.

Since the strike began on the 27th many secondary 
school students have embarked on the process of 
understanding the law that structures education 
in Chile. The students of Liceo B-30 and many 
other have been able to do so with the help of 
university students who have provided them with 
materials and given them brief lectures about the 
politics that effect the quality of education in 
Chile. Student organizer of Liceo B-30, Paloma, 
recounts that “in three days, really, really 
quickly,” she and her classmates began to have an 
understanding of the politics in the background 
of their education, a realization that in effect 
changed the objectives of the secondary school 
movement from simple demands for lower student 
costs to a complete upheaval of the politics of education in Chile.

The Organic Constitutional Education Law (LOCE) 
of 1990 was dictator Augusto Pinochet’s last stab 
at reforming Chile’s social institutions. LOCE 
officially makes the management of primary and 
secondary schools the business of whoever has the 
money to purchase and run a school. Miguel Paz of 
La Nación Domingo reports, “it should not come as 
a surprise, then, that the most prestigious and 
successful schools are linked to the big 
businesses of the right, to Opus Dei, to the 
Legions of Christ, and to other ex-authorities of 
the dictatorship.” According to Article Two of 
LOCE, even while the government is not charged 
with providing education to its citizens, it is 
still has the responsibility of “protecting the 
exercise of the right [to education].” As a 
result, the owners of many schools, whether they 
be wealthy individuals or companies, are paid 
government subsidies per student in attendance at their school.

While the government offers monetary incentives 
to the owners of schools for disadvantaged 
children, it does not have a concrete system of 
regulating how such money is spent in the actual 
education of each student. The Minister of 
Education recognizes that approximately 4% of its 
funding for education, or USD $160 million is 
lost to fraud committed by schools’ owners annually.

With this massive mobilization, secondary school 
students have produced the most powerful voice in 
favor of reforming leftover dictatorial policies 
in Chile in sixteen years. The Student Federation 
of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de 
Valparaíso (FEPUCV) is among four university 
groups in Valparaíso that have mobilized to both 
support the movement and further its causes to 
address legal reforms of education. FEPUCV 
spokesperson Andres Cortés comments, “It is 
important to recognize that
 of these 30 thousand 
students [organizing in the fifth region], I 
don’t believe that more than a third know what 
LOCE is. Because of this, we as an executive 
board have made a commission that goes to various schools and informs them.”

While many students may not have been familiar 
with the policies that shape their education 
before the movement began, Universidad del Mar 
law student Iván Lara Lara insists, “beyond the 
recent external influences [of the university 
students], this movement developed because 
[secondary school students] have lived the last 
stage of the prejudices that the educational 
system of the free market can have

Even in the industrialized city of Valparaíso, 
students are confronted with basic problems such 
as leaky roofs and underpaid teachers. While LOCE 
requires students to be in school two extra hours 
a day, a policy referred to as the Jornada 
Completa, or whole school day, professors are not 
paid extra and as a consequence students report 
that they are not learning anything during this 
time. At Liceo B-30, student leader Claudia 
exclaims, “Chile imitated the jornada completa 
stupidly, because other countries have the 
resources to do it, like Spain, United States ­ 
but Chile, how can we? 
We leave high school and 
 there’s nothing that says that ‘these girls 
specialized in computation, they studied the 
human body or knitting,’ some knowledge of 
something. We leave high school like this, with bare hands.”

A survey completed last year in Chile found that 
only 2.1 percent of high school students from 
municipal schools earned the minimum score 
required to enter a university on the country’s 
college entrance exam. Even while Liceo B-30 is 
on the second-highest of four tiers of 
classifying the quality of a school in Chile, not 
one of its graduated students went directly to 
college last December. Within this context, the 
Ministry of Education’s offer to grant the 
poorest fifth of the population a free entrance 
exam seems irrelevant; students from lower tier 
schools don’t just lack the $45 dollars required 
to take the exam, they lack the preparation 
required to stand a chance at entering a university.

This year in Chile, students who live the effects 
of these policies daily have consolidated their 
frustrations in the secondary school 
mobilization. Although the more concrete demands 
of student activists have been resolved through 
negotiations with the Ministry of Education, the 
strike persists due to the complexity of 
students’ demands. Major constitutional reforms 
will have to precede any type of reform or repeal 
of LOCE. Through the experience of a mass 
mobilization, students have come to understand 
both the politics that structure education in 
Chile and the incapacity that Bachelet’s 
center-left coalition has in addressing these 
issues. Professor Alejandra Briones at la 
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso 
explains, “This forth government of La 
Concentración (Chile’s ruling center-left 
coalition) doesn’t have the real freedom of 
making drastic decisions because they are a 
post-dictatorial government; they’re bound to a 
totally right-wing constitution.”

While Bachelet’s major claim throughout her run 
for the presidency was her desire to augment the 
participatory side of democracy, her current 
challenge is how to convince her electorate that 
their say matters, when Chile’s constitution is 
based in a profound mistrust of the people’s 
ability to positively effect the future of their country.

In an open letter to the student activists of 
today’s movement, Lawerence Maxwell, Chilean 
novelist, sociologist and student activist of the 
eighties, reflects “What you all have done, the 
marches, the long days of striking and tomas, has 
shaken a national consciousness that had been 
sleeping and this already is important. Hopefully 
this with result is a process of democratizing 
education, and in the search of a less exclusive 
model, but this is, from my point of view, 
secondary, only an effect of something much more 
transcendent, which is an act of recuperating 
dignity, something that occurs in the movement of 
protesting, taking the streets, opposing 
injustice, of letting out your voice and saying no.”

In a press release on Wednesday, Spokesperson of 
the Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students 
(Aces) Karina Delfino announced that students 
will continue to strike until the government 
agrees to give half of the seats on a committee 
that will look into reforming education in Chile 
to student participants. With the strength of 
800,000 behind her, the 18-year-old told the 
country, “We are not disposed to accept this 
commission as it is proposed by the President.”

Liz Munsell is an independent journalist and 
photographer from the U.S., currently working and 
doing research in Valparaíso, Chile.

The Freedom Archives
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