Burning flames in the hearts and streets of Santiago

Linn (2)Photo: Linn Helene Løken


Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile has left a highly privatised education system. Recently students have taken to protest in the streets to put an end the legacy of the dictator. Pandeia’s Ida Nordland translates a report directly from Santiago.

A blanket of polluted air covers Santiago. On the ground thousands of people have gathered. Drums are pounding the pace of the march they have started. The whistles join in, along with the loud shouts from the protestors: ”La education no se vende, se defende!” Chile’s educations are not for sale, they are to be defended.

“It is only during the last couple of years that people have realised that education is a right, not a privilege for the wealthy,” says Roberto Reveco, a film student at the University of Chile.

Today, most of Chile’s public schools and universities are private. While less and less public funds are spent on the public educational system, many choose to pay for a private education of better quality. The price for a bachelor’s degree in Chile varies, but may cost around 2000 euros. In comparison, the average income in Chile is 4.000 euros a year.

Pinochet’s Legacy

The privatisation process began 40 years ago. In 1973 Augusto Pinochet took the power from socialist president Salvador Allende in a military coup. Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years and more than 40.000 people were victims of torture, random arrests, killings or abductions.

Pinochet left behind a strong market-oriented policy. Only between 1980 and 1981 were 87% of all schools transferred from public to private control. The current education system is a result of this total privatisation.

Today, there are private institutions everywhere, but lately the students have begun to speak up, especially against the profit-seeking principals. The former Chilean minister of education Harald Beyer was fired in April because of a new scandal: The boards at several universities had created companies that rented out premises to their own universities. In this peculiar way, the rent was sent to the principal’s own bank accounts.

The Penguin Revolution

”We are fighting for our education, our country and against the fraud that is being carried out by the authorities,” explains a teenager at Estacion Mapocho, the end station of the march. He is holding an anarchist flag.

“Last night the police changed the route of the demonstration which made people go to the wrong meeting point. They do this to prevent us from gathering in a peaceful manner. In the morning the police continued to stop traffic and block streets so we couldn’t attend the protest. That is the kind of system we are fighting against,” the teenager expresses.

The first wave of student demonstrations began in 2006 when high school students started the  ”Penguin Revolution”, named after the pupils’ penguin-like uniforms. The penguins protested against fees to enter higher education and for free public transport for pupils and students. The movement began with relatively small demands, but is now fighting for a restructuring of the entire educational system. The message on the banners are clear: ”Educación publica, gratuita y de calidad” – public, free and good education.

Camouflaged Challenges

It’s burning, not just in the hearts of young students. It’s literally burning. A bus stop is in flames. Around it a group of youngsters have gathered, covering their faces in headscarves. They are called ”los encapuhados” – the hooded.

They fight against the system with rocks and homemade molotov cocktails. They represent the Chilean student organisation’s perhaps biggest challenge to be taken seriously, although they represent only a small group. The police respond with tear gas, tanks and arrests. The clashes were expected. They occur after every protest.

The violent game is legacy of the dictatorship, which has left deep traces in Chile. The fight for a public education continues nevertheless, – slowly but surely. As the young teenager with the anarchist flag puts it: ”There is always something to fight for.”


Originally by Linn Helene Løken for Momentum

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