By Ellis Cortez
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
SANTIAGO, Chile – Police clashed with students in Chile’s capital, Santiago, on June 26th after a peaceful nationwide demonstration by more than 100,000 students demanding education reform. Chilean police have arrested more than 100 people, many of them teenagers, after raiding secondary schools that had been taken over by their students.
Local television showed police bursting into schools barricaded with chairs as well as isolated clashes between students and police. The violence erupted when protesters began to throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police forces. Police in riot gear responded with water cannons and tear gas.
“They are not students, they are criminals and extremists,” Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said at a press conference. “They’ve acted in a coordinated and planned way to provoke these acts of violence.”
Chile’s powerful student movement has staged major demonstrations to demand free and high quality education, along with the elimination of the profit motive at private universities. These demonstrations have been going on in the country since 2011, during which thousands of students have taken over schools and universities sporadically.
Although Chile’s education system is regarded by many as one of the best in Latin America, students argue it is deeply unfair. They say middle-class students have access to some of the best schooling in the region, while the poor have to be content with under-funded state schools. Students are demanding that the state be put back in control of the mostly privatized public universities.
In contrast to other protests, the student movement on Wednesday received the support of teachers, the CUT union, the professors union, the Federation of Port Workers and the CTC copper union, among other labor organizations.
Protesters also demanded a wider distribution of Chile’s copper wealth. Chile is the world’s top copper producer and has witnessed a surge in economic growth and investment, which the demonstrators say is not being used for the betterment of society as a whole. The South American country is afflicted by severe income inequality.
“This has to do with discontent that is deeply rooted in many sectors of society. But we’re the first ones to sympathize with people who are innocent victims of this violence, because there’s no way to justify these types of clashes,” Andres Fielbaum, president of the University of Chile student federation told state television.
Even after two years of student marches, students say they have seen few real benefits and the dispute over education reform remains a key electoral issue ahead of the November 17 presidential election.
For more information please see:
The Guardian – Chilean police evict student protesters from schools – 27 June 2013
BBC – Chilean students arrested in school raids after protests – 27 June 2013
RT Actualidad – Fuertes enfrentamientos marcan nueva jornada de protestas en Chile – 27 June 2013
NBC News – Violent clashes spoil Chile student protest – 27 June 2013
Fox News Latino – Union members, miners join huge student protest in Chile – 26 June 2013