domingo, abril 24, 2005

In Chile, Students Will Be Students

[Opinion] Lack of government funding enrages Chilean youth this month, but it's nothing new
Por María Pastora Sandoval Campos
(Publicado en Oh my News International)

Student from all the public Chilean universities march together.
©2005 M.Pastora

Being a student is difficult enough, but being a Chilean student is particularly challenging, because higher education in Chile is close to impossible to finance.

Only 30 percent of people between 18 and 24 go to university. In Chile, the best universities are public, but they are not cheap. Some students try to work to offset the financial strain, but wages are low. So for many young Chileans, to study after high school is but a dream.

The demonstrators make their way down the principal avenue in Santiago, Chile, April 19.
©2005 M. Pastora

On April 19, more than 3,000 students from public universities and high schools gathered in Santiago and elsewhere to protest a lack of government funding for low-income students and an increase in the price of bus tickets. Among their demands were improvements to the bus card system that allows students to pay approximately 1/3 of the whole ticket. They want the cards to be provided to all students. Currently, the reduced-price tickets are available to only the neediest students.

The students amassed in the front of the Diego Portales Building in Santiago, in front of the Catholic University headquarters, at 2 p.m. They walked to the Education Ministry, where they gave a letter to the minister of education, Sergio Bitar, asking that he petition President Ricardo Lagos Escobar to find a solution to their problems, and especially, veto a unpopular education bill now in Congress.

The demonstration was peaceful at first.
©2005 M. Pastora

The students blocked the principal street in Santiago. At the Education Ministry, students clashed with police, and police responded by firing a water canon to disperse the crowd. There were protests the same day in the port city of Valparaiso, in Temuco, south of Santiago, the following day, and in other cities throughout the country over the last two weeks.

Dissatisfaction about government money for students is a theme that goes back decades, and the protests are always the same. Reading an article in an old newspaper, it is nearly impossible to guess what year it is from. In 1999 students met with transportation directors about the same bus ticket problems (PDF).

And that's not all. From the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio:

April 6 and 24, 2001:In Temuco, disorder erupted after students demanded free student transportation cards. Eighty-three students were apprehended by police for damaging windows, public buildings and shops.

April 29, 30 and 31, 2001: In Santiago and Valparaiso, students stirred disorder over the amount of education financing from the government. In Valparaiso, 225 students were arrested and damages were estimated at around $35 million pesos.

August 1, 2002: In Santiago, high school students vandalized shops and public buildings, and clashed with police over a bus ticket increase. A cameraman, two policemen and 21 students were injured.

May 5, 2004:Approximately 100 students protested in front of the Education Ministry because of a late issuance of student cards.

President Lagos spoke about the student protesters in his annual national evaluation speech. That the president would mention student anger (PDF) in a national forum shows that student issues are a government concern.

Carabineros, the Chilean police, watched the demonstrators closely at all times.
©2005 M. Pastora

A truck-mounted water cannon is put into action to break up the mass of protesting
©2005 M. Pastora

The situation concerning government funding for students is bad. It was always bad. But I think students in Chile look for reasons to be angry, to take to the streets and scream, or seize the universities. Of course, it's natural for youth to rebel, but news should also be new. Pick up this article a year from now and you will see what I mean.

- Student Demonstration (1) (.mov)
- Student Demonstration (2) (.mov)

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