March in Chile, 50,000 Strong for Education

(Photo: Mark Teiwes / I Love Chile News)

March in Chile, 50,000 Strong for Education

Government treats education as a consumer product, says protesters

Thousands of students marched in Chile on Wednesday in a continued campaign demanding free and better education.

The government said about 30,000 students joined Wednesday's march in Santiago, but student leaders estimated more than 50,000 took part.

The students protesters faced a heavy handed crackdown when the government sent in thousands of police officers to shut down the march. Many claimed the use of force was excessive and unnecessary.

Gabriel Boric, student leader, said the government still treats education as a consumer product, rather than a universal right.

Protesting students argued that President Sebastian Pinera's plans to curb the cost of education fall short of the transformation the system needs. They have been demanding education overhaul in over a year of protests.

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Al Jazeera: Chile students rally for free education

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Associated Press: Chile students protest president's reform proposal

President Sebastian Pinera said Wednesday a tax overhaul he is sending to congress will raise $700 million that will be enough to bring real changes to Chile's education system. He spoke as thousands of students marched in the streets to denounce the plan as insufficient. [...]

Protesting students argued the plan falls short of the transformation of the system that they have been demanding for more than a year.

The government estimated 30,000 university and high school students joined the march in Santiago. Student leaders put their numbers at more than 50,000. They were mostly peaceful, carrying a large banner with an image of Albert Einstein wearing an Ernesto "Che" Guevara-style beret. Later, a small group of protesters set a guard booth on fire, tried to vandalize a traffic light and threw rocks at police, who responded with water cannons. [...]

Students want to return the government to the center of Chile's largely privatized education system, while Pinera's government has instead sought to lower lending costs and otherwise make private educations more accessible to working classes.

Pinera said the effect of his tax plan would be "huge," providing not only for loans but for scholarships for the neediest students. He planned to meet with leaders of his center-right governing coalition to discuss more details before unveiling the plan

Pinera's tax bill faces opposition from both the left and right in the Senate. Socialist lawmakers want more profound changes to the tax system, so the burden falls far more heavily on corporations that have reaped the benefits of a commodities boom in Chile, the world's top copper producer. The president's right-wing allies want the government to reduce taxes on fuels that they say feed inflation.

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