Thousands of students marched in the streets of Santiago and other cities throughout Chile yesterday to express their impatience with the lack of progress made on education reform—a key promise made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after she was reelected in 2013. The Universidad de Chile’s (University of Chile) student organization Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECh) estimated that 80,000 students marched in Santiago yesterday, while the government put the number at 25,000.
FECh President Melissa Sepúlveda addressed the protesters at the march, warning that, “This is a direct call to the Ministry of Education, so that the agreements from the Right [parties] are not included in the Education Reform [bill].” After Sepúlveda and other student leaders had finished speaking, dozens of mostly young encapuchados, hooded delinquents, destroyed traffic lights, burned dumpsters, threw sticks and rocks toward the Carabineros, the Chilean police force. The Carabineros responded by spraying the protestors with water, shooting tear gas at them, and removing those occupying the Faculty of Law at the Universidad de Chile. According to Observadores Derechos Humanos Chile (Human Rights Observers in Chile), there were 17 arrests.
Bachelet sent the first part of her education reform to congress in May, eliminating subsidies for for-profit schools and ending selective entrance policies, but the bill is still being debated in the lower house. Meanwhile, a second round of reforms that would make university education free will be sent to congress later this year. FECh leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the exclusion of students from the deliberations, and voiced concern over “deals behind closed doors,” and “agreements that would benefit education businesses.”
Eight masked gunmen disguised as airport workers robbed an armored money transportation truck at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago on Tuesday, stealing over 6 billion pesos ($10 million)—the largest robbery in Chile’s history. The truck belonged to the U.S. security firm Brinks, and the money was due to be a loaded onto a flight for delivery at various banks and mining sites in Copiapó and Antofagasta in the north of Chile.
The thieves fled the scene in two vans headed in opposite directors and scattered nails in their wake to thwart potential pursuers, prompting Chilean Vice President Rodrigo Peñailillo to say that the gang was “obviously well organized.” Meanwhile, Chilean Sub-Secretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy Peña y Lillo called the security at the airport, which is handled by civil aviation authorities, “an embarrassment.”
Tuesday’s robbery tops a 2006 heist where thieves stole $1.6 million from a similar Brinks truck at the same airport terminal. In that case, the assailants were apprehended by police and are currently serving time in prison.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet unexpectedly canceled her trip to Venezuela for today’s Mercosur Summit yesterday afternoon. Alvaro Elizalde, a spokesman for the Bachelet administration, confirmed that Heraldo Muñoz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will represent the Chilean delegation at the summit in Caracas.
In addition to the Mercosur meetings, Muñoz will also meet with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and with the Venezuelan opposition coalition Mesa De Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition–MUD), at their request.
Muñoz is expected to express Chile’s interest in restarting and facilitating the stalled peace negotiations between MUD and the Venezuelan government. It is unclear whether he will address the continued imprisonment of opposition leader and former mayor Leopoldo López of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party.
President Bachelet’s absence was attributed to a winter cold and emergency meetings regarding her signature tax, healthcare and education reform.
Chilean Minister of Health Helia Molina set out on Thursday to clarify the government’s position on legalizing therapeutic abortion—abortion only in cases of rape, putting the life of the mother at risk, and the inability of the fetus to live outside of the womb. Molina said that the government was not promoting a law that would allow the voluntary termination of pregnancy under any circumstance, and that the proposed legislation would be formally debated in congress.
The announcement comes a day after Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said in an interview in Spanish newspaper El País that she would send the legislation to congress in the second half of the year. President Bachelet’s spokesman, Álvaro Elizalde, has since referred to the headline as misleading.
The president the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union–UDI) opposition party, Ernesto Silva, expressed his disapproval at the president’s proposal on such a controversial topic, stating, “like the immense majority of Chileans, we are always advocates for the defense of life.”
In Chile, abortion was legal for medical reasons until 1989 when former President Augusto Pinochet’s military government instituted a total ban on the practice. Abortion has become a hot-button issue since the return of democracy. The Chilean right, including ex-President Sebastián Piñera, has been vigorously opposed to the practice of abortion in any form. In 2013, Piñera controversially praised an 11-year-old pregnant girl for keeping her baby after being raped, and has recently reiterated his position opposing therapeutic abortion legislation.
Bachelet has had a busy first 100 days, successfully passing a tax reform that would fund her sweeping reforms to make education free at all levels, and proposing policies towards reconciliation with the Mapuche–Chile’s largest indigenous minority–including increasing political representation and returning land to the Mapuche in Southern Chile. In total she has completed 91 percent of the 56 measures she intended to propose during her first 100 days.
When a soccer match ends in a surprising or unpredictable way, Brazilians often use the popular expression “deu zebra” ("it was a zebra"). The term applies to games where supposedly weaker teams beat stronger ones, or when key players are outperformed on the field.
Like the animal, "zebras" are fairly rare. But in this World Cup, an incredible herd of surprises have come galloping in from the Americas to scare off the mighty lions during this group stage.
In Recife's Arena Pernambuco, Costa Rica defeated the 2006 World Cup champs, Italy, 1-0. Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz scored in the 44th minute with a header into Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's arch. The ticos,who are ranked #28 in the world by FIFA, were considered underdogs in a "Group of Death" that also includes Uruguay and the now-eliminated England—but they lead the group and have secured a spot in the second round.
On June 10, 2014, a ministerial commission in Chile rejected the HidroAysén project, an $8 billion joint venture of the Spanish company Endesa, S.A. (51 percent), which is a subsidiary of Italy’s Enel, and the Chilean company Colbún S.A. (49 percent).
Recently-inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet had stated that she would not support the project, and her ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, economy, and health agreed. Nevertheless, the country faces a challenge of energy poverty and high costs, which President Bachelet must address going forward.
The HidroAysén plan was to build five hydroelectric dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers in the Patagonia region in the south of the country. The rivers–located in the Aysén region–are in an area of Patagonia that is virtually empty. The project developers viewed the plan as potentially very lucrative since the region receives steady rainfall.
HidroAysén was initially approved in 2011 during the administration of former President Sebastián Piñera, but popular protests derailed the environmental impact study. According to one estimate, more than 70 percent of Chileans opposed the project, and they took to the streets to express their disapproval.
After a three hour meeting on Tuesday, a committee of five ministers in Michelle Bachelet’s cabinet has rejected the HidroAysén project–a hydroelectric plan to build five dams in two rivers in Patagonia that would have generated 2,750-megawatts of energy and increased power generation in Chile by 10 percent. The project, backed by the companies Endesa Chile and Colbún with an investment of $3.2 billion dollars, faced massive protests throughout the country soon after its approval on May 9, 2011 by the Comisión de Evaluación Ambiental (Commission of Environmental Evaluation—CEA). The two companies have 30 days to appeal to the Tercer Tribunal Ambiental de Valdivia (Third Environmental Tribunal of Valdivia), which will have the last word on the project.
Environment Minister Pablo Badenier, the head of the committee, stated that the decision was made after the committee accepted the demands of local communities and Chilean citizens as whole. In addition, Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco said the plan failed to take into account its impacts on the local ecology and populations, and did not sufficiently quantify damage to the environment and wildlife. CEO of HidroAysén, Daniel Fernandez, lamented the move as a “lost opportunity” for the Aysén region, one of the most isolated and poorest areas of Chile.
Former Environment Minister under Sebastián Piñera, María Ignacia Benítez, noted the political nature of the decision, and said that she “did not understand the reasons for the rejection.” Nevertheless, environmental groups celebrated the decision as a victory, and emphasized that this was just the first of many denials of projects that are damaging to the environment in Chile.
Lawyers representing the Indigenous Diaguita announced an initial agreement with mining giant Barrick Gold on Wednesday. Negotiations stalled in 2013 after the Canadian company invested $5 million in the Pascua-Lama mining project in the southern Atacama Desert.
The Diaguita had opposed the gold and copper mine located on the border of Chile and Argentina on the grounds that they were not properly consulted through the consulta previa process established by International Labour Organization Convention 169 (ILO 169) and codified into Chilean national law in 2009.
The initial agreement, which will be valid for six months, is the first in a series of steps that must be taken under ILO 169 before Barrick Gold can move forward. If the Diaguita community approves of Barrick’s project proposal, the two parties will enter the dialogue phase, which can last up to two years.
Despite the initial agreement, the Pascua-Lama project is officially on hold until water management infrastructure to prevent water pollution is constructed and the dialogue phase under ILO 169 is complete.
On Tuesday, March 11, in her first act as senate president, Senator Isabel Allende will place a red, white and blue sash over the shoulder of Michelle Bachelet, officially making her the first re-elected president of Chile’s modern era.
It will be a moment loaded with symbolism of the country’s struggle to break the shackles of a recent dictatorship and age-old traditions of patriarchy and machismo. Both Allende and Bachelet lost their fathers in the days following the country’s September 11, 1973 military coup
Salvador Allende, Senator Allende’s father, was the first democratically-elected Marxist head of state in Latin America. He took his own life in the presidential palace, rather than submit to the military forces that bombed La Moneda palace and maintained power for the next 17 years with a reign of terror and unimaginable atrocity. His daughter escaped with her life and was forced into exile for the duration of the dictatorship. She returned to pursue a long-standing and distinguished career as a parliamentarian and champion of progressive causes.
Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet died from torture at the hands of his former military colleagues for remaining loyal to President Allende. His daughter was captured and imprisoned before she, too, made it out of the country and lived in exile.
Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile to practice medicine and eventually went on to become health minister, then the first female defense minister in Latin America and, later, Chile’s first female president. She left office with an enviable 84 percent approval rating. During the Piñera years, she became the inaugural head of UN Women, earning the praise and esteem of world leaders. She returned, triumphant, to sweep first the primaries, followed by the first round of general elections and finally the runoff vote.
But these potent and evocative narratives obscure another reality—just how difficult this term will be for Bachelet.
At least seven military police were injured in a confrontation with Indigenous Mapuche in the Araucania region of Chile on Wednesday.
The clash began on Monday when 30 hooded individuals, presumed to be Mapuches took over the privately-owned El Canelo farm in an act to reclaim land they believed to be theirs by ancestral rights. After the perpetrators set fire to the land, military police intervened and were met with pellet guns, resulting in seven wounded officers, who are currently in stable condition at the Talcahuano Naval Hospital.
General Ivan Bezmalinovic, head of the police force in the eighth region of Chile where the conflict occurred, stated that a special operations group was sent in to prevent further fire outbreaks from land invaders. However, according to the Mapuche community, the fire at El Canelo was not an ambush, but rather an act of self-defense against new police assaults on land the group claims as their own.
The incident comes days after a Mapuche leader was sentenced to 18 years in prison for arson and the resulting deaths of the property owners. Conflicts between indigenous communities and private land holders and extractive corporations are ongoing, particularly in southern Chile where there is a population of nearly one million Mapuche. The International Labor Organization's Convention 169 went into full effect in Chile on September 15, 2009, which recognizes the land rights of such communities; however tensions remain high.
Stay tuned for Americas Quarterly's Spring 2014 issue for in-depth analysis of ILO 169, land rights, and previous consultation.
Support AQ! "Like" our Fall 2013 issue cover here.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.