Isabel Cocker/The Santiago Times Staff
SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of students, staff and other supporters of state universities marched today in cities across the country as the controversial draft education law was being voted on in Congress.
In Santiago, the protests started as early as 7.30am with blockades in Providencia which saw some roads barred to traffic. Later, at 10.30am, thousands of people joined together in Plaza Italia and marched down Alameda past La Moneda.
Although the majority of the protest passed peacefully, at around 1pm masked protesters started attacking riot police with rocks and other missiles, including Molotov cocktails.
The police responded with clouds of tear gas, water cannons and eventually arrested some of the protesters. The number of those arrested is currently unconfirmed.
Students from Chile’s main public universities have been protesting 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”.
Their claim is backed by secondary school students who also joined the demonstration, saying the government’s proposed plan will take the schools out of the hands of local authorities. 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.
“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,” Patricio Medina, President of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile, FEUSACH, affirmed during last week’s protest.