Santiago is going crazy today!!!
I am writing this from Rodrigo’s apartment (on the 21st floor)…outside all I can hear is police sirens and there is a strong smell of burning trash and gas bombs in the air. Students and police are clashing in the streets below the apartment building and in many other parts of the city centre. I have just watched a group of students break a dustbin, spread the waste across the street and set fire to it. They were quickly dispersed by a group of special forces police offices with full riot gear, armoured vehicles, water cannons and gas bombs!
Santiago has been hit by many many protests in the last few months…environmental, transportational and predominantly, educational. It is a very interesting time to live in Santiago, many of my friends tell me that they have never seen such a strong social consciousness and social movement demanding change, at least not since the days of protests during the dictatorship in the 70’s and 80’s.
The issue is the incredible inequality in the education system (implemented during the Pinochet Dictatorship), both at a secondary and tertiary level. How twisted is a situation where the poorer people in a country, who receive a worse education in municipal schools, have to pay more money to attend a sub-standard university than people who could afford an education in a private school and can go to one of the best public universities and pay less for that education. Chile has a complex system of public and private universities, where the private universities are actually managed as businesses and make a profit! Therefore their main concern is financial success and not the quality of their education or the opportunities for their students after graduating. Thus the same poorer people, who received a sub-standard schooling, then a sub-standard university education, can not find good paying jobs because of said sub-standard education AND on top of it all have HUGE student loans to pay back for the next twenty years!!! Thus continuing the cycle of inequality and poverty!
Today’s chaos in the streets is purely a result of the request to march by the students being turned down by the government and the municipality of Santiago and thus the protest is considered illegal and has been met with the full force of the police. The reasons according to the government are the huge costs of the damage to public and private property that have resulted from the other marches. Yes, unfortunately there has been alot of damage to property and I certainly don’t condone this form of protest. But the reality is that the damage is done by a small percentage of people and the vast majority of students just want to protest peacefully and instead are hit by the full force of riot police! Most of the other marches that have taken place (one of more than 80,000 students) passed peacefully and the students have been incredibly creative in their protests as the images below show.
What is the solution to this deadlock between students and the government…the government has put forward various proposals in response to the demands of the students…whilst I have not read, nor do I understand all the demands and responses, from what I can gather, the proposals have been laughable. The students do not seem to be stepping down until they get what they want. And they want more money for the system, better quality, more equality…frankly all they want is the possibility of a better future
…and that future needs a better education system. Not too much to ask or expect from a country who keeps saying that by 2020 they will be classified as a developed country. After what I have seen and read today, that goal is a very very far way away!