More than 10,000 high school-aged students marched through the streets of Santiago, Chile on Wednesday calling for free public education and an end to 'profiteering' at the nation's schools.
The march began peacefully in downtown Santiago where students, many in school uniforms and carrying backpacks, held colorful signs and chanted, “A un año de lucha, aun no se escucha” (After a year of struggle, they still do not listen). Later the students were met by riot police who contained the throngs of students with shields, barricades, and personnel carriers armed with water cannons.
The march is the first of two public protests announced by an alliance of student groups which include the National Coordination of High School Students (CONES), the Coordinating Assembly of High School Students (ACES), and Confech (Confederation of Chilean Students). The next mass march is scheduled for June 28th.
Dozens of students were detained by police after clashes erupted with students.
“They detained students that were holding up a canvas and were doing absolutely nothing more,” CONES leader Cristofer Sarabia told a reporter with the Merco Press.
The secondary school student movement in Chile follows on the heals of high profile university student protests that captured headlines over the last 18 months.
“The university students won many more benefits for themselves last year, but the situation for high school students remains the same,” said Lucila, a student from Santiago, to the online journal I Love Chile. “It’s the high school students’ moment now.”
“The students of Chile are tired of watching entrepreneurs behave like felons, filling up their own pockets, and profiting by destroying our dreams,” said Confech's Gabriel Boric, earlier this week.
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The Santiago Times reports:
Dozens of high school students were detained in Santiago on Wednesday as a protest organized by the National Confederation of Secondary Students (CONES) turned ugly. Police reports put the total number of protesters at 5,000, while CONES said there were 15,000.
“They detained students that were holding up a canvas and were doing absolutely nothing more,” CONES leader Cristofer Sarabia said.
The march was organized to protest profiteering in Chile’s educational system, and was scheduled on the one-year anniversary of the start of the Chilean Winter, a series of student protests that shook the country in 2011. CONES planned the march earlier this month and received the backing of the Confederation of Chilean Students (CONFECH). A larger national student strike, also against profiteering, has been organized by CONFECH for June 28.
Profiteering has remained a central issue in Chilean education, as seven universities were found to have financial irregularities by an investigative committee on Monday. The National Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating further.
In addition to its anti-profiteering message, CONES declared the march to be in favor of free public education and the de-municipalization of schools. Sarabia condemned the government for its inaction and lack of supervision.
“After a year of mobilization where we took over more than 500 schools at a national level, we still don’t have concrete answers from the government,” Sarabia said before the march.
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I Love Chile adds:
“We want the government to improve the quality of education and make it a more egalitarian system, so that even people who don’t have money can go,” Manuela, a student from Liceo Siete of Santiago, said. “Right now the reality in Chile is that if you don’t have money, you can’t go to school. This happens all the time.”
Sounds of chanting, whistles and barking dogs filled the air as the protest began. Police officers, who arrived long before the event started, lined the path that students followed down Alameda.
Distinguished by their blue helmets, representatives from the Observers and Defenders of Human Rights in Chile (ODDH) walked among the crowd to ensure that relations between police and demonstrators remained friendly.
“We want to make sure that functionaries of the state follow regulations while maintaining peace and order,” Raul Encina, representative of ODDH, said. “We hope the students’ right to demonstrate is protected.”
The ODDH, which was created by petition of the Confederation of Chilean Students (ConFech), also attempts to protect civil rights by accompanying arrested demonstrators to police stations.
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Photos by Mark Teiwes / I Love Chile: