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.
A group of women delivered thousands of signatures demanding the restoration of therapeutic abortion to representatives of President Daniel Ortega. The signatures, collected in Europe by Amnesty International, were turned in by leaders of the Strategic Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, in hopes that international pressure will aid in passing “legislation regarding abortion to be able to save women’s lives,” according to Wendy Flores, one of the group’s leaders.
In Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador, abortions are illegal under any circumstances, including rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life. According to Flores, women in Nicaragua have died because abortions are inaccessible. She accused the government of withholding data about such deaths. The prohibition on abortions is a recent development, having been outlawed following the 2006 electoral campaign, after being allowed in cases where the mother’s life was at risk for over a century. The decision has been criticized by women’s groups, the physicians’ association of Nicaragua, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the European Union, which have demanded further discussion on the issue.
The petition was coordinated to coincide with an international Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, which saw protests and rallies in other Latin American countries to decriminalize abortions.
At first, reports were that that Mexico’s La Parota hydroelectric dam had been scrapped for good due to limited funds. After five long years of opposition rallies, blockades, legal battles, and widespread intimidation, the peasant community of Cacahuatepec in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, could finally give up their fight and claim victory.
But as it turns out, there was no such cancellation. Mexico’s state power company, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), had postponed construction of the 900MW hydroelectric dam citing the country's “sufficient generation margin, the difference between capacity and peak demand.” This is a huge letdown for the people of Cacahuatepec.
Back in 2006, I worked on a story about how the dam would affect the surrounding indigenous peasant community. Located near the tourist destination of Acapulco, residents make a living growing a variety of crops and community-owned lands, known as ejidos. Construction of the $1 billion hydroelectric project meant that an estimated 25,000 people faced the very real risk of being pushed out so that the Mexican government could flood their crops and dry up the Papagayo River. The project faced serious opposition from the United Nations, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the World Bank, which argued that the dam's energy output would be inefficient and would come at a high ecological and economic cost.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.