CHILE: Students continue to pressure Bachelet


Roberto Jorquera

As of June 7, Chilean high-school students continued to strike and occupy schools throughout the nation, demanding the repeal of the Organic Constitutional and Teaching Law (introduced under the Pincohet regime) and improvements in the quality of the public education system.

On June 5, more than 1 million students, including university students, participated in a day of action. At least 262 people were arrested at the nationwide strike. More than 40 students also occupied the UNESCO offices in central Santiago to bring international attention to their demands.

While the government has offered extra school funding, it says it cannot grant the students' demand for free bus passes. The students argue that Chile's high copper profits and a reduction in military and police spending could fund their demands.

Television footage of young people being beaten by security forces during protests on May 30 and 31 outraged many parents, leading President Michelle Bachelet to fire the head of the riot police.

On June 7, high-school students held a national student assembly, which included 500 representatives from across Chile. The assembly voted to continue the strike and occupations. Bachelet has now established a new education council to look at the demands of the students and draft a new education law. The students called for 50% plus one of the council's members to be elected from students, teachers and other education organisations. When the government refused this demand, the students vowed to continue protesting.

The student strike has been Chile's largest in over 30 years and has gained the support of the majority of the population. According to one daily Chilean newspaper poll, the students are supported by 80% of the population. Student leader Karina Delfino told media that students would end the strike when their demands are met by the government, including increased representation on the new national education council.

From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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