Marches occurred in Chile at the beginning of the month to protest the government's education reform plan and to demand the resignation of Education Minister Adriana Delpiano.
The protests were held by the Confederation of Chilean Students (CONFECH) in various places in Santiago, as well as the cities of Valparaiso, Temuco, Valdivia, and Concepcion. The uproar was a response to a controversial bill being sent to Congress for approval.
According to activists, the bill doesn't do enough to correct the damage done by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who encouraged for-profit schools and prevented public schools from accessing resources.
Santiago's march, which did not have a permit, resulted in conflict between police and hooded protesters. Among the 140 arrests were high school and university students, and TV journalist Gonzalo Carvajal was beaten. Water cannons and tear gas were used.
Some of the signs read "on the same path of changing education, lies the revolution" and "stopping the reforms of the neoliberal state" reports the Buenos Aires Herald.
According to Fox News Latino, Diego ArraÃ±o, the head of the Coordinating Assembly of High School Students, said:
It cannot be that the minister is not clear on how this reform is going to be financed. She didn't understand the demands of the student movement. The only thing she's done has been to reach an agreement with the businessmen.
The plan would allow around 165,000 students to attend any of 30 universities for free, but only the lowest income bracket can benefit and only certain universities are eligible. Last year, President Michelle Bachelet approved a plan that claimed to offer free education, but CONFECH says that only .14% of tuition costs were covered. They are disappointed, as this was the main promise of President Bachelet during her campaign.
Gabriel Iturra, the president of Central University students and spokesman for CONFECH, said:
[The bill] does not establish free tuition for all, but only for a few. Why does it have to be a benefit that only arrives in drips and drabs?
The president says it will take 23 years to finance free education. That's not acceptable.
Diego ArraÃ±o, leader of the Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES) called for the education minister to resign. He said:
Today we are exactly one week from when we gave the ultimatum to Mrs. Delpiano. We have told her and that is why we demand her resignation.
It's not possible that the minister isn't sure on how this reform will be funded. She did not listen to the student movement's demands. All she has done is agree with entrepreneurs.
Education costs in Chile are some of the most expensive in the world, reports Sputnik News: they pay up to five times as much as students in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
Finance Minister Rodrigo ValdÃ©s reports that universal access to higher education would cost the country US$4 billion. He said:
If Chile had that money– I suppose we would be lucky to have that money– we would have to decide if we want to use it for higher education or channel it to other needs, such as health or improving pensions.
According to teleSUR, more than 60 schools and 50 universities have been shut down recently due to national strikes.