June 11, 2015
In an environment of international soccer scandal and domestic frustration, Chile will kick off its run as host of the Copa América today when it takes on Ecuador in the first match of the three-week tournament. Chilean President Michele Bachelet will help inaugurate the tournament Thursday as student protesters try to draw attention to the country’s education system.
A wave of student protests marked the lead-up to the event, beginning in the country’s capital of Santiago on Monday. Protestors have promised to continue demonstrations throughout Copa América’s duration. Students are protesting the country’s education system, which many say continues to foster inequality and diminish student autonomy.
In May, Bachelet responded to years of student protests by signing into law a bill that bans for-profit universities and aims to progressively end family co-pays for schools that receive public funding. While the bill addresses key student demands, activists have called the move insufficient, and protests have revamped as the president’s approval rating has fallen to historical lows in the midst of political scandals and a cabinet reshuffle.
The Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (Confederation of Chilean Students —Confech), the country’s leading coalition of university students, estimated that 200,000 “students, professors, workers, and citizens” attended a march it led in Santiago on Wednesday.
"We are seeing the support from Chilean society for our demands, which are essential for change and the transformation of education in Chile,” Confech spokesperson Nicolás Fernández told reporters. On Thursday, high school students and striking teachers marched through Santiago’s main thoroughfare.
Meanwhile, a year after Latin America’s impressive collective success at the 2014 World Cup, the Copa América will determine a winner from 12 teams from South America’s Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, along with Jamaica. Competition is expected to be tough, with Argentina, Brazil and defending champions Uruguay the favorites to take the title. Colombia and Chile, which is looking to end a nearly 100-year losing streak, are considered dark horses. The tournament will conclude on July 4.
March 29, 2013
Thousands of high school and university students protested in the Chilean capital of Santiago yesterday to demand education reform. The students denounced the country’s exorbitant university tuition fees—which represent 40 percent of the average household’s income—demanding an overhaul of the country’s higher education system and a guarantee to free, equal and high-quality public education.
Protests quickly turned violent, however, with hostility between the authorities and students beginning only 20 minutes after the protest was underway, when students were forced to change the agreed upon route for the march. Students reacted by tossing Molotov cocktails at authorities; police used tear gas and water for crowd control. Authorities reported 60 arrests and one policeman injured.
Minister of the Interior Andrés Chadwich responded to the situation: “Once again a group of students feels entitled to generate chaos, damage public property, interrupt transportation and generate violence in Santiago.” The student union spokesman, on the other hand, accused the police of using “excessive, repressive action.”
A series of large student demonstrations began in Chile in 2011. Despite the continued protests over the past two years, there has yet to be a government overhaul of the education system. The principal student-led organization, The Confederation of Chilean Students (La Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile—CONFECH), confirmed another protest for April 11.
November 15, 2012
On Wednesday, newly-elected Chilean student leader Andrés Fielbaum outlined his approach for educational reform in Chile in the coming year, emphasizing the importance of the student movement in determining the outcome of the December 2013 presidential elections.
Fielbaum, a 25-year-old engineering student, was elected president of the influential Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECH) on Tuesday under the platform slogan, “Create a Broad Left.” His election, with a little more than 44 percent of the student vote, ends the tenure of the previous FECH president, Gabriel Boric.
Like his predecessors, Fielbaum will have to contend with Chile’s problem of outsized student debt, lack of financial aid and the long-running conflict over the country’s privatized university system, a relic of Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. Massive student protests led by FECH erupted across the country in 2010 as students and their supporters demanded educational reforms.
In an article published Monday in Americas Quarterly’s Fall 2012 issue on the Latin American middle class, AQ’s Richard André explains that some 40 percent of Chilean students fail to finish their degrees, and that even college graduates in Chile struggle to pay off their loans. “Unfortunately, high-quality education comes at a high cost. Chile has the second most expensive private university system of any OECD country, after the United States. And due to lack of financial aid, Chilean families shoulder 85 percent of the cost of a university education—more than any other developed nation,” writes André.
On Monday, the University of Diego Portales (UDP) released its annual human rights report, criticizing Chilean security forces’ “irrational and overblown state force” during the student demonstrations of 2010 and 2011. The report cites the controversial “Hinzpeter Law,” named after Chile’s former interior minister and current defense minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter, which makes occupying public institutions a crime punishable with up to three years in jail. Although Congress approved a plan to reduce student loan interest rates last year and has promised to raise $1 billion in taxes for education, students are dissatisfied with the government’s response to their demands, and the protests have not abated.
“We aren’t disposed to sign papers, we’re not ingenuous,” said Fielbaum. “It’s very serious that the presidential candidates—Golborne, Allamand and Bachelet—do not discuss this subject. We have to be interpreting what they want and what they’ll propose in education.”
“We’re a movement capable of changing agendas. We want to influence the proposals and the presidential debates,” he added.
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