The Chilean student movement roared back to life on Thursday, with organizers and media outlets reporting that hundreds of thousands of people joined students in the nation's streets calling for a free and quality education for all.
Peaceful marches took place in nearly a dozen cities across the country.
In the capital city of Santiago, a huge demonstration—estimated at over 150,000—held a jovial and energetic march through the city which culminated at the city's landmark Estación Mapocho. As the larger group dispersed, some protesters were met with tear gas and water cannons as police forces clashed with smaller splinter groups from the larger crowd.
The Buenos Aires Herald, which said the marches were reminiscent of the waves of demonstrations that swept Chile in 2011, reports:
Hundreds of thousands of students took their educational claims again back to Chilean streets to demand a free, high-quality education system as the Andean country gets ready for key elections this year.
[...] schools and universities were left empty once again with around 120,000 students protesting in Chile’s main cities such as Santiago, Temuco and Valparaiso to reach an educational reform.
“There are more than 120,000 people here in Santiago and we have to consider the demonstrations in the rest of the country which show that we can change the reality we are living under a latent injustice as we continue to be the world’s most segregated country in educational terms,” head of the Catholic University Student’s Federation Diego Vela affirmed.
Student leader Camila Vallejo, in an interview with local ADN Radio, said the size of the demonstration showed that the student movement and the broader social movement in Chile are once again growing and on the move.
"This symbolizes that the student and social movement didn't go home and that that the movement is here to stay." – Camilla Vallejo, student leader
"This symbolizes that the student and social movement didn't go home and that that the movement is here to stay," Vallejo said.
Students at the march carried flags and banners with slogans like "The Struggle Continues" and "Free Education for All" while dancing and chanting along the streets.
Under similar banners in 2011, large street demonstrations pushed for a rejection of the Pinochet-era education policies that students still say relegate education advantages to the elites while making it unaffordable to most Chileans.
As the Santiago Times reports:
For Chileans, marching in masses is not a new phenomenon. The current student movement reached its peak in the winter of 2011 with some of the largest demonstrations in Chile since the return of democracy in 1990.
“If we didn’t have these marches, we wouldn’t be able to talk about education and health and justice,” [said protester Nito Rojas].
Though representing various organizations, the common goal among all marchers was to denounce the state of education in Chile.
“We are marching because we want free and quality education,” said Valentina Ibañez, a first-year student at Universidad Alberto Hurtado. “Education should be equal for everyone, it should be free — we all have the same rights.”
Ibañez, like many other students, held up large cloth banners with her school affiliation and slogan. More than a dozen of her classmates and teachers joined the masses in the streets of Santiago.
Despite the slight chill in the air, the march was infused with dancing and cheering. Some participants played drums, many waved flags while others threw shredded paper confetti into the air.
RT.com has video:
As the demonstration and rally finished, reports the BBC, riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons to break up those who refused to disperse, including small factions dressed in black with covered faces. From that report:
Eight officers were injured and 109 people detained, authorities say.
Students say Chile's education system, traditionally viewed as the best in Latin America, is profoundly unfair.
They say middle-class students have access to some of the best schooling in Latin America, while the poor have to be content with under-funded state schools.
In a 2012 interview with Democracy Now!, two leaders from the Chilean student movement, Camilla Vallejo and Noam Titelman, explain the contours of the recent political fight and the history of the education system in Chile since the fall of the Pinochet Dictatorship: