Thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago, Chile in a protest concerning a number of delays pertaining to a promised education overhaul.
According to police, about 20,000 students participated in the protest, although student organizations estimated that number to be closer to 150,000. While the event was mostly peaceful, violence did break out toward the end when a small number of protesters in hoods threw rocks and gasoline bombs at police.
Authorities say the occurrence left 7 police officers with minor injuries and 134 protesters in custody.
“We have proven to be a majority of citizens,” Valentina Saavedra, president of one of the student groups, told state broadcaster TVN. “We want politics to legislate for the majority again.”
Past protests have centered around a push for President Michelle Bachelet to fulfill her campaign promise to ensure a number of education reforms including free higher education. Students say they cannot wait any longer and have had enough from corrupt politicians.
Political scandals include one involving a bank loan between Bachelet’s son and campaign financing from right-wing politicians.
“We need to protest against this caste of corrupt politicians and businessmen who are involved and who are not ruling for a majority, and instead they’re cooking up the reforms behind four walls,” said Aurora Isidora Rozas, a spokeswoman for the coordinating assembly of high school students.
Students held banners carrying the slogan “Chile Decides Its Education,” demanding change to the education system in the country, which is currently overrun by failing public schools, expensive private universities and inexperienced teachers.
While Bachelet made education from kindergarten through high school free of charge this year, her administration is now considering a bill that would provide university-level education at no cost. Student leaders would like to have more say in the issue, arguing that the government will backpedal on some of their promises as costs continue to rise.
“It is not clear whether the high expectations of students will be fulfilled,” said Diego Vela, a director at Education 2020, an organization that promotes greater equality in education. “The money from the tax reform originally committed for education won’t be enough to finance all the reforms.”
Tax increases over the past year raised an additional $8.3 billion. Of that, $5 billion was reserved for education. However, most of that funding has already been spoken for, leaving little for the higher education system.
Despite a low approval rating for Bachelet, protesters may have a difficult time in comparison to earlier protests, as many of their demands have already been met. The recent protest did not attract as many students as previous actions. In addition, many leaders of the movement are now radicals, compared to previous leaders, some of whom are now lawmakers, writes Javiera Quiroga for Bloomberg.