Isabel Cocker/The Santiago Times Staff
SANTIAGO – Students from Chile’s main public universities continued protesting on Thursday against a proposed law which would see universities losing some of their autonomy and would, according to their leaders, normalize unfair working contracts.
The protesters reject these propositions which they call a “step backwards” for universities across the South American country. They also wish to protest against the financial structures of the university and the cost of tuition, something which they say is “unstable and insufficient”.
They have also been joined by secondary school students protesting the government’s proposed plan to centralize the school system, taking the schools out of the hands of local authorities. A spokesperson for the student union CONES (the National Coordination of Secondary Students), said on Wednesday that they fear the centralization of the education system “will not be either complete, or effective”.
The university students and the secondary school pupils have joined together to form a more substantial protest, and raise awareness for both causes. According to diarioUChile, Patricio Medina, President of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile, FEUSACH, affirmed that “the entire education system must be modified, and this New Public Education proposal is an agreement between the government and the Right, something which we reject.”
Their protests started on Wednesday with a march through the city, which ended in disturbances. According to DiarioUChile, ten protesters were detained by police for trying to handcuff themselves to the railing outside the Ministry of Education.
On Thursday, the marches continued in the morning, with police descending on the Matacura and Santo Domingo areas of the city in the early morning, ahead of the planned and approved main protest which started in Plaza Italia at midday.
This later march saw almost 1000 protesters meet at Baquedano, then march down Alameda towards La Moneda. According to Cooperativa, the police detained a total of 45 people, 28 of whom were underage.
However, not all of the demonstrating was done with marches through the streets. At 6.30pm on Thursday, one hundred young musicians from the University of Chile joined with dancers from the same establishment to hold a free concert in Plaza Italia. Under the baton of Eduardo Browne, the concert drew large crowds, who then broke into the campaign’s chant in celebration at the end of the display.
Speaking to Fabian Zuñiga, the President of CEFA (the Confederation of Students of the Faculty of Arts), after the concert, he declared that the performance was just one of many methods they were using to try and capture the attention of the public and the press.
“We want our message to be spread: that we need the Universities to get stronger as establishments, something that this law will prevent from happening. The government needs to take more responsibility for their universities.”
Later that evening, another group of protesters filled Plaza Italia, chanting slogans against the government’s planned law. These were met with riot police and sprayed with water cannons, but young musicians with drums continued tapping out a rhythm and dancers twirled in the faces of the helmeted policemen.
According to the Facebook pages of CEFA and FEUSACH on Thursday night, the student groups have more events planned for Friday, and will continue to protest into the weekend.