While I was traveling north in Chile last week I started to notice some strange things. Wherever I went, there were signs hanging on buildings. SCHOOL ON STRIKE. education is a right. If Jesus lived now, he couldn’t go to school because he’s poor. Some of the signs I didn’t quite understand. It turns out that I just didn’t have the details to what has become a major event here in Chile.
High school students are striking or “taking over” schools and refusing to attend classes until the government addresses their concerns about the educational system. The basic complaints are that many school have completely inadequate facilities, and that poorer people are greatly disadvantaged in receiving a quality education. Specifically, students cannot pay the bus fare to get to school or afford to take the PCU, Chile’s equivalent of the SAT, to attend college. One article called the protests, “the largest since the fall of Pinochet.”
Riots have occurred in the downtown area of Santiago. While Elizabeth and I were riding the subway, she sneezed about 5 seconds before all the other passengers started sneezing and our eyes stung slightly. Tear gas used in the city center had drifted down into the subway. As we passed various schools walking, students had barricaded the gates with desks and chairs. On the buses, students pass through asking for money to purchase food to sustain their strike. It surprised me to see that many passengers contribute. Ironic though it may seem, I think civil protest is seen as more effective and reasonable here in Chile than in the U.S. nowadays.
Currently the Bachelet government is negotiating with the high schoolers who lead the national coalition of students. For uninvolved residents here, the situation hasn’t posed any real danger. According to the latest news updates, the student effort is slowing.
For more background on the story, there are many news articles if you search for them. My fellow associate Tom Eggleston wrote a more in-depth description on his blog. One recent AP article describes the escalating action. The New York Times has a more in-depth piece on the student protests in the context of Michele Bachelet’s new presidency. Additionally, I highly recommend viewing the Flickr photos from various photographers tagged with “Chile protesta.” On FlickrBlog the other day, they ran a highlight of the protest photos that have been posted there.