Six months ago many of the students in Chile quit going to classes. Six months later they have yet to return. Here in sum is a description of why the students are protesting.
Here in Chile there are two groups of students who have walked out of the first semester of school this year and have indicated they will skip the second semester as well. The students who have walked out of the school are public high school and public university students. Private schools are not affected.
There are three types of high schools here in Chile. They are the municipal schools, subsidized schools, and private schools. The students in the municipal schools have not attended classes for many months. Students at the subsidized and private schools are not on strike. Regarding the universities there are two types: private and public. For example The University of Chile and the University of Santiago are public which the Catholic University is private. The group which is leading the protests is called “Confech” which is a type of student union presenting the universities here. Their leader is Camila Vallejo who is head of “Fech” or Federation of the Students of the University of Chile.
Municipal high schools are free to attend while subsidized high schools cost maybe $100 or $200 per month. But to call the public universities here “public” is a misnomer because the state does not contribute to the cost of the university. Instead they loan the students money to attend. This is what has angered the students most of whom graduate from public of private school owing usually around $30,000 USD. The cost per year at these public universities is about $5000 USD per year.
What the students want is a constitutional guarantee of a free and quality education and for the state to take over running the municipal schools. Further the students want that the profit motive be removed from the schools: they say the schools should operate as a business which has no profit like a cooperative for example. After months of general strikes, marches, and violent outbreaks by lumpen—this is a German word meaning coming from Marx which indicates criminal elements who seek to wreck havoc regardless of the issue at hand—the government had agreed to meet with the head of the union which represent the high school students, university students, and the public university professors who are sympathetic to their cause. But the students walked out of these negotiations saying that the government has been disingenuous in their sincerity to deal with the issues.
Meanwhile the Piñera administration is moving ahead with legislative agendas which have been under discussion since several presidential administrations. This includes reforms of the municipal school system and lowering the interest rate on student loans to 2% and new scholarships. Unlike in the USA where President Obama has little sway with the legislature here Piñera’s right-wing government has the majority in the senate and among the deputies so he can generally move his issues toward debate and law.
There is a summary of the issues. The students now are at risk of losing the school year and there have been various proposals put forth to allow them to take their exams at other locations when the school they attend has been closed. That the school is closed is apparent because the students have piled up chairs at the entrance to the schools and hang banners of protest all about. The students do not attend classes but they hang out at the schools asking passersby for donations as a means to draw attention to their plight.
As a general observation I would say that most of the people here in Chile agree with the students while many are tired of the violence which breaks out at many of the demonstrations and would like that to end. Each time there are protest marches barricades go up in the streets and more than once city buses are set afire and a department store and other locations have been looted and burnt. Police are injured and so are the protesters. The position of the student unions now continues to be that the protests will continue and the students will not return to classes for the next semester although the University of Chile says it will be open.
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May 12, 2017
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