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Chile: educators deplore the violent repression of student protest

The Colegio de Profesores (CPC), EI national affiliate, has condemned the violent actions of the Chilean Police Special Force, that reacted with "violence and unjust repression” against a student protest.

Thousands of students rallied in the capital Santiago on Wednesday 8 August to demand their right to a free education be respected by the government.

They reaffirmed that they are entitled to a government-subsidised education, as opposed to the free-market model they are currently subject to.

Chilean student leaders asked their Government to take control of the mostly privatised public universities to provide an equal access to quality education. They also demand that the government alters the taxation system. This system currently taxes the poor more heavily, leaving them unable to pay escalating tuition fees.

Unfortunately protests have turned violent, leaving both students and police officers badly injured; three school busses were also reported to have been set aflame by student protestors. The Chilean Government disproportionately responded to the protest with force, alleging that the students’ right to protest had recently been revoked after their last demonstration on 28 June also took an unfortunate turn towards violence. The “Hinzpeter Law,” approved by the Civil Security Committee in Chile’s Chamber of Deputies following the 28 June 28th protest, restricts students’ rights to freedom of assembly. Both students and teachers condemned it as unlawful.

Teacher unions back up students

“The Chilean Government is contributing an anti-democratic attitude with an utter lack of understanding about this social movement,” said the union's National Director Barbara Figueroa who, along with another CPC representative, Silvia Valdivia, attended the demonstration.

Figueroa added that “it is not possible that the Government continues to deny the citizen participation, the social players, students, teachers and workers, which have demonstrated that they won’t keep silent, nor allow that their rights are not respected, despite of the pressure exerted by those above them.”

"We, educators, came here because our students’ demands are also ours,” she highlighted. “Since they introduce the administrative decentralisation at a community level, we have been rejecting this form of administration, since it only widens social differences.”

Figueroa further indicated that “in an effort to improve the quality of education for our children and our young teachers we are calling for a coming nationwide strike by teachers on August 28th, every single teacher from across the globe is invited to join; it’s a universal mobilization for which we invite all stakeholders to join.”

Figueroa went on to declare that “the CPC denounces the tax reform that has been recently implemented by the Government, because it exonerates parents from payment whose children attend private schools; this is an obvious slap in the face for public education.”

“We cannot allow our Government to continue to deny the Chilean youth an equal access to quality public education. Social activists, teachers, students and additional education-sector workers have repeatedly shown that they will not be silent nor will they forfeit their demands in the face of repression.”

“The Chilean Government is projecting that the educational spending is only funnelled into increasing teachers’ salaries,” she added.  “This neglects the important aspects of the teaching profession which are a necessary expense of the education-sector, such as teacher-training or public-service field training! The CPC strongly believes that with the collaborative effort from the State, Chilean society could enjoy an integral education system that offers real opportunities from the classroom.”

On 25 June, the CPC President, Jaime Gajardo, already described during a press conference, the Hinzpeter Law being discussed in Congress as a "backward step".

At the Extraordinary National Assembly of Teachers, about 200 teachers nationwide expressed their rejection to the legal measures on the education sector boosted by the government.

They also expressed their support for the student mobilisation.

Education reform remains unresolved

These protests are a part of a larger storm that’s been hanging over Chile since May 2011. In April 2012, Chilean Education Minister Harald Beyer proposed a new university funding plan, which would remove private sector banks from the process of granting student loans and reduce interest rates on loans from six to two per cent.

The President of the University of Chile Student Federation, Gabriel Boric, rejected the plan, stating: “We don't want to trade debt for debt, which is what the government is offering us.”

EI Solidarity

EI has been monitoring, and will continue to monitor closely the education situation in Chile. It supports the Chilean students and teachers’ struggle to ensure free quality public education in the country. It urges the Chilean authorities to engage in faithful dialogue with students’ and teachers’ unions, and opposes them simply stripping the students of their right to collectively bargain.

On 25 April, an EI delegation met with Chilean education unions on a massive march in favour of public education, taking place in Santiago. Over 50.000 people called for the fundamental right to quality education to be guaranteed and funded by the state. The trade union leaders met with teachers, academics and students’ organisations. They also met with the Chilean Education Minister and shared their concerns about his unwillingness to listen to the legitimate demands made by social organisations. In addition, the delegation met representatives from the International Labour Organisation in Chile, raising concerns from the global educational community regarding the “historic debt” that Chile still owes to thousands of teachers since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

"This march showed the Chilean people´s firm conviction that education is a fundamental and universal right," stated EI Deputy General Secretary, David Edwards. Edwards stressed the need for a profound reform of the Chilean educational system to create an alternative to the neo-liberal education policies in place. He believes in "a process by which teachers unions are and will continue to be key players in the recovery of a non-elitist education system; a system open to everyone.”

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