For more than a year a steady student movement has been building in the streets of Santiago and other small towns throughout Chile. On Wednesday thousands of these students thronged the streets of Santiago and proceeded to light three Transantiago buses on fire. Police responded with giant water cannons to disperse the crowd.
The students congregated in an unsanctioned demonstration to demand that the current government provide free education. Public universities have become increasingly privatized over the years, hiking up the cost of tuition and putting the burden on working class families, according the the Herald Sun.
This particular student movement wants to push the current president, Sebastian Pinera to change the tax system so the wealthy pay more and to restructure education so that it is no longer a for-profit business. Conversely, the president has claimed he will implement reform through a new wave of scholarships amounting to about $1.2 billion and lowering the student loan interest.
Wednesday’s demonstration was not sanctioned by the government and quickly escalated into a dangerous situation. Hooded vandals mixed with the students in the streets and were responsible for setting the buses on fire. Officials have maintained that the students cannot be exempt from responsibility for the incidents during Wednesday’s protest.
Dozens of people were arrested during the protest and some accounts say that 49 police officers were injured. The torched buses were dangerous spaces in which passengers were forced to crawl away in order to survive. A presidential spokesman berated Wednesday’s actions saying:
The leaders [of the student protests] are opening the doors to vandalism and delinquency
How much more should we put up with these illegal marches that call on school takeovers and that threaten a violent August? What does that have to with education?
Protests for education reform started about a year ago in Chile and some had hoped that change would come about relatively quickly, Al Jazeera notes. However, while protests have continued throughout the streets of Santiago very little has changed, disheartening many students. A protest in late June of this year also came to a decisive end when over 400 people were arrested.
While most protests are actually relatively peaceful, they have become increasingly volatile as government officials have lost patience. The protests are headed by the University of Chile student federation. The president of the group, Gabriel Boric, told local TV, “I deeply regret what is happening today in the streets of Santiago, but the government is responsible for this because of its indolence and silence to all the proposals of the student movement.”
Very little dialogue has occurred between government and student officials, meaning that education reforms will likely remain contentious territory for a while yet.
Photo Credit: Nicolas 15