Student Demonstrations in Santiago, Chile

Movilización Estudiantil, Santiago, Chile

Student Protests in Santiago, Chile May 12, 2011

Student protests are very interesting to me, probably because I spent a year of my life writing a thesis on the Chilean Education system and the Revolución Pingüina of 2006. This was a series of mass protests and school take-overs, mostly by high school students. Unfortunately, since high school students massively took to the streets at that time, not much has been improved in the Chilean Education system, which, by design, favors students in the high socio-economic stratus.  The Concertación government and the current Alianza administration have both passed major education laws since that time. However, they have not been enough to profoundly and structurally change the system, and therefore students have not seen any real changes. In my opinion, without major structural changes at all levels, from pre-school to graduate school, the education system here is going to continue to perpetuate Chile’s inequalities by giving preferential access to those who can pay for it.

Today’s protest was more focused on higher education, and around 20,000 students from a vast number of schools (facultades) from both traditional and private universities participated. I saw signs from Universidad de Chile, Universidad Católica, Universidad de Santiago (USACH), Universidad Autónoma, Universidad Mayor, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, ARCIS, and probably some more that I am forgetting. A number of unions, professors, adminstrators and teachers also participated.

The initial catalyst of the march was due to the fact that JUNAEB, which is the organization that manages all state scholarships, has not given out a lot of transportation and food scholarships for first year students. The school year started in March, it’s now May 12th. Another reason there tends to be protests in May is that Chile’s State of the Union Address is given every year on May 21st, and therefore students hope to bring enough attention to their cause that the president will promise some sort of change in his speech.

However, from reading the pamphlets that the marchers were giving out, the protest really had to do with reforming education in Chile, getting rid of the profit-making aspect (yes, primary and secondary schools and universities can all profit from education), and changing the system so it is more accessible to all. They sited that over 3000 students at the Universidad de Chile (the public university) can’t currently graduate because they can’t pay their student fees, and the situation is even worse in the private universities.

I was saddened to hear that, like most protests here in Chile, there were fights with the police as the day went on. According to La Tercera, 18 students were arrested.

Here are some pictures I took as the students marched down Avenida Portugal, right in front of my office.

"Praying is not enough, UC (Universidad Católica) take to the streets"

Universidad de Chile School of Science, For Free Public Education

That's Lavín, the Education Minister, saying "I'm screwing you over"

That's Pinochet's head, I think this was UC's School of Art (relevant because the current education system was designed during the dictatorship)

Chilean cops (aka Ninja Turtles) bringing up the rear

The cavalry (I can't help but love the horses, so beautiful)

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13 thoughts on “Student Demonstrations in Santiago, Chile

  1. Here in Temuco protest get violent very often. There was one time when here in La Católica in Temuco, the pacos caught a masked guy that was messing around with motolovs, and he droped his back pack. Some students took it and searched for an ID to return it to its owner, and SURPRISE, the agitator was an undercover paco, trying to get things violent and end the march of people.

  2. Cool shots. You can never get enough of those Ninja Turtle photos. Is the second from the left a woman? (Not often you see that in riots). It was also nice of the one on the right to smile for the camera. He was probably thinking “Great, today I get to bash some student heads” (accompanied by evil grin).

  3. You wrote: “The calvary (I can’t help but love the horses…” I think you meant cavalry. Elsewhere, let’s not forget that the Socialist governments in Chile under the Concertación were sooooooo very proud of their education system being rated “the best in Latin America.”

    • You’re right Don Lucho, a typo no más, I will change it. I think you’re right, we should keep in mind that within Latin America, Chile does have a “good” education system…BUT that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. I think that if Chile really wants to join the ranks of developed countries and be a strong member of the OECD, they really need to address certain issues in the education system which in my opinion is really holding Chile back.

  4. There have been a lot of student protests over here in the UK over the last 6 months but it was all down to the fact that our new coalition government decided to increase student tuition fees (when they’d promised to implement a new law that said everyone’s entitled to a free university education).

    I always think it’s so sad that there are people here who never get the encouragement to reach their full potential with education but, at least, if they’re like me and come from a ‘working class’ background, they can apply for student loans and a tuition grant from the government to attend university.

    When I read your post about the class system in Chile, I was so sad. Especially when you said that if you’re born poor, you’ll never go to university. And then on top of it, reading this post and finding out that nothing’s really changed. It makes me so sad. But I’m actually proud of the fact that students do feel passionate enough to demonstrate for something they believe in. They don’t just sit back and take it.

    • Hi Ceri! The roots of this protest also have to do with high tuition prices that force students into debt. As an in-debt former student myself, I can sympathize with them 100%! I wish students in the US were more passionate and willing to stick their necks out like Chilean students are, because the truth is, a lot of these injustices exist in the US as well, especially since the recession.

      I should not that it’s not 100% impossible to move up the socio-economic ladder in Chile, but it’s not as easy as in other countries, and the differences are also a lot more stark to begin with.

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