Chile: Huge education protests as two students killed

May 17, 2015

Chile has been hit by another round of protests by student groups demanding substantial reforms to the country’s education system.

Two student activists were killed in Chile on May 14 amid nationwide protests. The two students were shot in the city of Valparaiso, near the Plaza Victoria, at the end of a huge rally. Local media said both students were gunned down by a Valparaiso store owner as they attempted to hang a banner over his shop.

The deaths came after a day of clashes between police and protesters in cities across the country. In the capital Santiago, police used water cannons to disperse crowds after a 150,000-strong march through the city centre to demand changes to the country’s education system. Several people were reportedly injured in clashes between riot police and students.

The protests were the latest explosion of outrage in a long-running dispute between the Chilean government and the student movement. The government of Michelle Bachelet has committed to providing universal higher education by next year, in response to years of massive student protests demanding serious reform.

Under the 1973-90 right-wing Pinochet dictatorship, higher education in Chile became increasingly expensive as the system was steadily privatised. In the 1990s, the government struggled to cater for growing numbers of university students.

Bachelet's government vowed to overhaul Chile's education system, but student groups say progress is too slow. Among the key demands are calls for the national government to bypass local governments to fund schools.

Spokesperson of the National Coordination of Secondary Students, Ricardo Paredes,told Reuters: “What we are demanding is that education be taken from the municipalities and that it come directly from the ... (national government) so that funding is done in a direct and baseline way.

“This means we ensure the funding at the start of the year to guarantee that public, free and quality education is also a reality as far as the finance system which is put ahead of the Chilean educational system, given the amount of inequality that exists in the population.”

The latest protests came on the heels of huge student protests on April 16, two days after Commission on Education of Chilean Congress approved the main aspects of the education reforms.

A large march of 150,000 people called by student leaders in Santiago demanded free, quality, public education and also rejected the meddling of corrupt politicians. The march was also met was with police repression, with police using tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters.

The protest also called for a change to the country’s political process, including greater participation for Chileans in decision-making. President of the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech) Valentina Saavedra said: “Enough of this democracy which only serves the big businessmen, which is at the service of a select few. No, we want a real and participatory democracy in which social actors are really heard.”

Saavedra also rejected outright a proposal being studied by the education ministry to charge a special tax on professionals who have completed higher education and earn a high wage.

The latest protests have taken place in the backdrop of a series of high-profile corruption scandals involving corporations and high-ranking politicians from the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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