Student protests erupted in Santiago, Chile, yesterday when an estimated 5,000 demonstrators took to the streets to demand free, high-quality public education for all Chileans. The organization that convened the demonstrations, Asamblea Coordinadora de Estudiantes Secundarios (ACES), contends that steps taken by the Chilean government last year to quell similar protests are insufficient. Shortly after protesters began leaving a designated area, police intervened with tear gas, water cannons and crowd control horses, which prompted demonstrators to retaliate by throwing tree branches, bottles and rocks. The street conflict and demonstration lasted for approximately three hours and resulted in 50 arrests and three police officers injured.
Although yesterday’s demonstrations were the first major education-related protests of 2012, widespread protests have forced President Sebastián Piñera to replace two education ministers since 2010. Student demands also include requests for interest rate reductions on loans and a break on university fees, which have saddled many graduates with overwhelming personal debt.
Human rights organization such as Amnesty International have expressed concerns about the Piñera government’s crackdown on protesters, saying there have been complaints “by demonstrators about the use of excessive force and mistreatment of tear gas and water cannons by the police, arbitrary arrests and reports of torture and mistreatment, including beatings and threats of sexual violence.” In 2011, there were more than 40 major protests during which an estimated 5,000 people were detained.