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Thursday, June 01, 2006

La Educación en Paro

So this week there has been lots of huge national protests going on in Chile. You have probably not heard about them because they have not been covered in the mainstream US media, though the BBC and other sources have some articles if you are interested in reading more. These protests have been organized and lead by high school students. It is pretty amazing because they have coordinated at a national level and the past couple days protests have happened everywhere in Chile but the center of the protests are here in Santiago.

The issues: I still do not have a really good understanding of the issues but let me explain what I know. There has been some smaller protests lately relating to the student passes (passes that let you ride the buses for a discounted student price) and the PSU exams (the university entrance exam – Chile’s SAT equivalent). The students wanted the buses to be free rather than just discounted and they wanted the PSU exams to be free (they are about $40 now). These were the starting issues and then it escalated into being about broader issues. They are now also protesting for these things, but also a change in the way the money for education is spent and how the system is organized, along with various other issues that I still am not completely clear on.

En Paro and En Tomas: Tuesday (which also was my birthday) was a national day of “paro.” En paro, essentially means on strike but it is different than “en huelga.” I guess strike refers more to a workplace whereas this was high school students. I have been trying to figure out what the equivalent word in English is and the closest thing I can come up with is a walk out, although there was no actual walking out of school, schools were just cancelled and student just didn’t go to school. So thousands of high school students had protests in the downtown area. Throughout the day, many universities declared support for the high school students and so also were “en paro.” Each department decides to individually whether or not to join and so some of my classes were cancelled and some weren’t. There were also lots of buildings that were “en tomas” which is a take over of a building, I guess kind of like a sit-in, but without the sitting in.

The protests: So protests here, especially with young people can get pretty out of hand. We were warned to stay away from the area right downtown where everything was happening and all the buses were detoured around the area and the metro skipped the two stops near all the protests. The protests get very violent from both the side of the protesters and the police. Protesters throw rocks, bottles that explode, things like that. The police however throw tear gas bombs into the crowds of protesters, have trucks that spray a hard stream of dirty water, trucks that spray tear gas, and they beat the protesters with their clubs. So it gets pretty out of control and violent. I stayed away from the protesting area but even about a mile down from the protests and on the metro I could feel faint traces of tear gas. There have also been hundreds of arrests and lots of students have been hospitalized in the last few days.

Most of the signs and banners that the protesters have and that are hung across buildings are targeting Michelle Bachelet, the president, rather than the Minister of Education who is the one who has the power to make the changes. I guess this is kind of a test for the new president to see how she will respond to the demand of the students. She has come out against how the police have been treating the protesters but I don’t know any more than that. The big day of protest was Tuesday but nothing was promised to students by the end of the day and so many of the protests have continued and school is still out in many places for the rest of the week. It is possible that if the students don’t get a response from the government by the end of the week, the Paro will continue into next week.

It is a pretty amazing movement of students, and very impressive how organized they are across the country. This has been the hot topic of conversation here for the past couple of days and probably will continue to be. As much as I want to just see the protests to see what is going on and experience it, I have been trying to avoid being near them, besides being dangerous, even just being near them you will feel the tear gas which is pretty painful. If you are interested in reading more and maybe reading a better description of the issues, try googling it or look on the BBC, Democracy Now, or Pacifica websites.


At 7:58 PM, June 01, 2006, Blogger Becca said...

Wow. I suppose it is a good thing you are stearing clear. We are always warned in the U.S. to stay away from protests but you can always tell it is just b/c the don't want the protests to grow and has nothing to do with personal safety. Sounds like that is *not* the case in Santiago right now. But I totally understand the desire to see it and experience and all that jazz too. Geeze. There have been protests here related to student concession too and I also don't know exactly the deal. As a study abroad student you are not eligible for concession prices (but as a full-time international student you are, I believe) and that is the only piece I have really heard about (that they want that changed- concession for *all* students).... but it isn't the main issue. So yeah... super interesting. Love you Sari! - Becca


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