‘End the Debt’: 250,000 Chilean students take to the streets for free education

SANTIAGO – Thousands of students marched across the country on Tuesday, in a massive show against Chile’s Programa de Credito con Aval del Estado (CAE), or Students Loan Program.

Joining in the call made by the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech), whose objective on this occasion is to show their rejection to the CAE, hundreds of students marched in downtown Concepción, southwest of Santiago, in central Chile.

Confech reported that 250,000 students protested across the country, with 80,000 students taking to the streets in Santiago alone.

The students demand an end to education credit schemes that benefit the banks and drag students down in major debts.

Facing police repression in several neighborhoods, tens of thousands of Chilean students marched through the streets of Santiago and other cities to continue a years-long movement to demand free and quality public education and an to end to crippling student debts.

The main march began at 11:00 a.m. local time at Santiago’s Plaza Italia and was set to continue for long blocks in the capital city.

Under the banner “End the debt,” the Confech, and Federation of University Students of Chile, or FECH, announced that the latest protests were called to demand the government cancel all debts under the Credit with State Guarantee program, known as CAE.

“To bring awareness to the massive debts that thousands of students in higher education face and where the banks have made a business off it,” said the FECH President Daniel Andrade of the purpose of the action.

He also criticized Minister of Education Adriana Delpiano for not agreeing to talk with student leaders and consider their requests.

Ahead of Tuesday’s march, Chilean students also took part in a social media campaign to raise awareness about the impact of runaway student debts, holding signs with the debts they have racked up with banks and private lending institutions in order to be able to complete their education.

Among their demands, students have called for universal free and high-quality education, regulations to guarantees transparency, democracy, and non-sexist education, as well as new measures to penalize profiteering in higher education.

Student organizations report that some 1 million university students have major debts for studying and that only 15 percent of enrollment is in state university, highlighting the crisis of for-profit higher education that takes advantage of students.

“The government can’t wash its hands saying they can’t forgive the educational debt, but they have to generate effective solutions to the result of their bad policies,” said Sofia Barahona, from Confech.

Rising education costs in Chile have cut many students out, leaving countless others with crippling debts. Meanwhile, private companies in the sector continue to make large profits and many education institutions have closed down or undergone mergers.

Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet tore down public education in 1981. Under pressure from massive student protests that erupted in 2011, Bachelet signed off on a plan to provide free university education, but student movements have slammed the government for failing to live up to its promises.