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CHILE
Student movement continues to mobilize
Rocío Alorda*
7/31/2013
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Students took to the streets and occupied schools to demand improvements in education system.

Taking over high schools and participating in mass demonstrations, Chilean students continue pushing for their demands to be met, including an end to for-profit education, the termination of municipal control over schools, the democratization of schools, and changes to how the secondary education system is financed.

In May, high school students stopped attending class and occupied landmark schools like they have been since 2011, demanding better education and an end to for-profit education.

Although the police removed them because some of these municipal establishments were polling stations for presidential primaries on June 30, students retook many locations upon the decision of their assemblies. Some schools resumed classes with the end of winter school vacations in mid-July, but the student bodies remain in a state of mobilization.

Moisés Paredes, spokesman for the National Coordinator of Secondary Students (CONES), was quoted by the media saying that the strikes and school take-overs are part of a permanent mobilization process to push for the fulfillment of the students’ demands.

"We contend that we are not against the democratic processes, that the take-overs are not born because we want to boycott an election or because we like to be occupiers,” Paredes said. “It needs to be clear that there are demands and concerns among high school students that have not been addressed, and that have not been resolved — demands that are historical, like desmunicipalización, as we see how municipalities have shown they do not have the administrative capacity to handle educational institutions."

The demand to desmunicipalizar schools means that municipalities would no longer control public high schools; instead, the state would guarantee a good public education.

The second demand by CONES is a deeper internal democracy, created by increased participation of education communities in the decision-making process. According to Paredes, CONES also seeks stronger vocational and professional education, an area currently in crisis due to a lack of framework for internships and work in the field. Finally, the high school students want to change how public education is financed, because the subsidy that exists today has bad results and generates neglect in regional schools because of a lack of management and limited resources throughout the system.

“Those four basic demands are framed within a larger demand, which is the creation of a new institutionalization for public education… and that the education agenda advance that way, in order to reach an agreement, and so that we students don’t have to rise up with [school] take-overs and strikes in order for the state to remember that public education exists but unfortunately has been completely forgotten,” said the CONES representative.


Sum of social actors
In an election year — the president, 120 representatives, and 18 of 38 senators will be chosen on Nov. 17 — the student movement will continue with their demands, in coordination with social actors that have included the students’ demands in the national agenda.

On July 11, the day of a national strike called by the Confederation of Workers (CUT), the presence of high school and college students stood out in the demonstration, which in Santiago alone brought together more than 200,000 people. This confluence of social actors showed the strength that the Chilean social movement gained in the last two years, when the process of mass mobilization in the country started.

“This has been a historic strike, in conjunction with social actors,” CUT President Bárbara Figueroa said during a press conference. “According to our calculations, we staged a demonstration in the metropolitan region in which 200,000 workers, youth and social movements mobilized.” According to Figueroa, it was “a historic day, when demands took center stage; with certainty we can say that the half-million demonstrators demanded profound changes in our country, in big areas: a new constitution, the defense of natural resources, tax reform, education reform; but it’s certain that today we establish the need to reach a new deal with workers in Chile."

Paredes said that with the demonstration "we have shown that the best kind of ethics that we can give to entrepreneurs, to those who exploit us, who exploit our parents and most of Chile — is social mobilization together with workers, building that new country and that new educational system.”

Meanwhile, Diego Vela, president of the Federation of Students of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (FEUC), and metropolitan region spokesman of the Confederation of Students of Chile (CONFECH), said “we want to take back what is ours; a dictatorship abolished our rights and made it so 70 percent of the population can’t unionize, can’t have a fair wage; we are thousands, but in spite of this, 30 percent have the power to inhibit democracy.”

The social and mainstream coordination on the most important demands reflected in the national strike on July 11 show how this period of social movements has deepened ties between sectors seeking structural changes in the country.

2011’s leaders to the polls
Not strangers to the electoral process, some emblematic leaders during the 2011 mobilizations are now running for election. Among them are parliament figures, like Camila Vallejos, a member of the Chilean Communist Youth and former president of the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH), and Giorgio Jackson, former president of the FEUC. Vallejos is a candidate of the “New Majority" coalition, which has as its presidential candidate former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), while Jackson is a candidate for Congress representing the “Democratic Revolution” movement that arose in the context of the 2011 mobilizations.

Another former university leader who is also running for Congress is Francisco Figueroa, former FECH vice president, who told Latinamerica Press that this election phenomenon gives rise to the creation of a political reestablishment to end the old, undemocratic practices that plague national politics.

“Here there is a seed, a potential for reestablishing that can be envisioned. We are in a time when we realize the difficulties we face, but we know we can move forward. What happens now is the struggle for democracy on the human scale and to break with market authoritarianism — a defense of full democracy as a radical change. We need to join paths to advance construction of a united political block,” said Figueroa, who is running for the “Autonomous Left” movement.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Young students continue to fight for free, quality education and demand profound changes in the country. (Photo: Rocío Alorda)
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