I can’t believe the protests are still going on!
Two years ago, when I travelled to Chile as a graduation present from my grandparents, the news about the education protests was something brand new and exciting for me. When I arrived in June 2011, students had just started to occupy the central office of Universidad de Chile and classes were suspended indefinitely. The students were protesting to have the public university system be more affordable to the middle class. The scheduled “Marcha” which I attended (and where I sang, danced and protested) ended in riots and the Carabineros (Chilean Police) spraying water and tear gas to end the protest. Little did I know that what I thought was a once in a lifetime opportunity would come around again two years later.
Today the protests not only ended with violence but they also started with it. At 7AM hooded protestors threw Molotov cocktails at a police station and broke into a restaurant to use the chairs as a barricade in order to block traffic along some of Santiago’s main roads to start the day for the scheduled nationwide student demonstration. Again, the police responded with water cannons and tear gas.
These masked, violent protestors however were not the majority. The scheduled protest from 1-3PM today was a peaceful demonstration by more than 100,000 students demanding education reform. They were joined by teachers, dock workers and copper minors. They all joined together to demand a wider distribution of Chile’s copper wealth and reform of the education system in an attempt to put the state back in control of the mostly privatized public universities. With the primaries coming up this Sunday the protest was strategically planned to demonstrate that the dispute over education reform remains a key electoral issue of this years presidential elections.
After two years of student marches I’m just waiting to see some changes. These social movements cannot continue to be left unnoticed. It is now up to the government and policy makers to recognize the civil unrest and do something about it. When I took a course last year taught by former president of Chile Ricardo Lagos, he defined democracy as a system by which citizens decide what goods and services should be provided to everyone. Well, it’s been clear for the past two years, citizens have decided and announced that higher education is a service that should be available to everyone. Today, once again, reinforced that decision.