OSCAR LEÓN, PRODUCER, TRNN: On April 11, 2013, more than 100,000, some say 200,000 people marched all around Chile to show the political resurgence of the student movement. They demand an improved and free education.
ANONYMOUS STUDENT 1 (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The massive numbers in this march say that our message goes beyond the students. Here you see housewives and mothers, workers, and many other kinds of people. And the message we carry is that the authorities can’t be deaf to the popular voice anymore.
ANONYMOUS STUDENT 2 (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Students and Chilean families still standing here, we are defending our rights. We are not idle anymore. We have proven that we are active and trying to change the reality of our country. And it is up to us to generate those changes. That is why we called upon this march.
ANONYMOUS STUDENT 3 (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We the students are here to stay. Even if it takes many years we will keep gathering and marching, we will keep being thousands, being hundreds of thousands, millions around Chile. They can’t stop us. Our agenda is on track. We will take the minister down and then keep moving.
LEÓN: Similarly to what happened in Montreal and UC Davis California, it was the brutal government reaction to an initial genuine popular claim, what gave the students the high moral ground and fueled a broader student and citizen support.
CRISTOBAL LAGOS GONZALES, FORMER CHILEAN STUDENT BOARD MEMBER (2011) (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): No doubt, the thing is that not only students marched. We gather a broader support. More people, “common citizens”, came out to march and support our demands. I think it goes beyond us.
I personally characterize our movement, the student movement, as the “tip of the spear” of all Chilean social movements. For many reasons, like their ability to gather and discuss politics and mobilize, students have better resources to generate a movement and mobilize people.
And to this movement, more people and other movements keep adding up. I think that the student marches represent not only the students, but also many more people, those who are tired of being left out of important decisions when it comes to social policies.
Social services are a profitable business in Chile, while there are profound injustices all around. Those who write the policy are the ones profiting from the laws. They are governing for their own benefit, not for the good of the Chilean people.
LEÓN: April 11, 2013, was a real resurgence of a movement that had seen a significant decay since 2011, when the student movement mobilized marches with numbers in the tens of thousands, some say even more, even hundreds of thousands. During several months, high school, college, and university students held rally after rally, and above all to demand political respect.
LEO RETAMAL MUÑOZ, FORMER CHILEAN STUDENT BOARD MEMBER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): All the social movements, particularly the student movement, is very satisfied with the number of people that came out to march, because those numbers showed our political value in society. Around 75 percent to 80 percent of the citizenry support our demands.
LEÓN: Their struggle was met by police infiltration, agent provocateurs, and violent assaults by the “Carabineros”, the military police, in behalf of the Piñeira administration. It is important to know that the president, Sebastian Piñeira, himself has been reported to be one of the few who made fortunes when Pinochet passed the education law in 1981. And he’s a billionaire.
In this video we see three police cars and more than six riot cops hunting a single very frightened teenage girl. This very peculiar arrest happened after the “Indignados” March in October 19, 2011. There have been a broad number of reports of police misconduct, including excessive use of force, sexual assault, denial of medical care to injured students, and persecution of leaders. These reports go back to 2010, even before these marches, like the one of Recaredo Galvez of the Concepción University Student Board, who was set up, then arrested and beat down into unconsciousness by the police.
In Chile, military dictator Augusto Pinochet implemented the education system in 1981. He did so to reform a completely public education system as implemented by Salvador Allende, who died during the military assault to La Moneda presidential palace on September 11, 1973.
MUÑOZ: The neoliberal model implanted then slowly privatized all social services and public basic needs, all services, including education, health care, pension funds, even the soccer federation, affecting all levels of people’s daily life.
A political system that prevents the change in favor of the majority was also implemented, a political system that permits only two candidates, giving few political forces control on all of the decisions. That way they keep the general population very passive. This apathy has been the main obstacle for the social movements in Chile.
LEÓN: After four so called “socialist” or “market-left” administrations without changes, the discontent grew more and more, especially among the generation born after the dictatorship, when all the dissent was met with kidnap, torture, and often murder. The stories of horror in military jails inhibited many generations from dissenting with government policies.
GONZALES: We have to remember that in Chile from 1973 until 1990 there was a dictatorship, where civil rights and free speech rights were very restricted, especially talking about politics. So there were 17 years when all dissenting voices were silenced. So that generation of Chileans were conditioned to be silent about politics, mainly because if you didn’t agree with the government, you’ll be executed by a gunshot or you would be tortured, maybe kicked out of the country.
LEÓN: After the end of Pinochet’s rule and four so called “left coalition” administrations, no profound changes have been made to the ultra privatized Chilean system implemented using blood and fire by Pinochet.
GONZALES: This protest are related to a model that keeps taking rights away and privatizing public assets and making a business out of every single thing. This model creates such great inequality that at some point it all has to explode.
So this accumulation of injustices during so many years, plus the surging of a new generation born after the dictatorship–.
My generation was born between 1988 and 1995, and we are leading the demonstrations. This generation is often called “the generation with no fear”.
LEÓN: It is interesting that no radical changes have been made in the last 23 years to favor the poor and the middle class. Many feel that the democracy is co-opted by a two party system that represents the same interests. And while Michelle Bachelet represents a more progressive approach than neoliberal businessman Sebastian Piñeira, however many people feel she still does not represent a real change in favor of a middle class and the poor.
MUÑOZ: The recent analysis we’ve got is that the left coalition governments acted as guardians and administrators of the neoliberal model, even in some cases deepening the neoliberal model of the military dictatorship policies. Such is the diagnostic that most social movements have obtained about the socialist administrations. This is a big part of the present crisis, although many still debate whether this is a crisis. But for the social movements’ understanding, there is a grave social and political crisis.
LEÓN: On April 11, there was also police repression. Many were hurt by police assault. Some people where hit by BB guns.
The mobilizations are scheduled to continue until the student goals have been met. This is very unlikely, since Piñeira himself has a clear side in this fight. If he gives in and accept the students’ demands, he may be perceived as “weak” by his funders and political supporters.
MUÑOZ: The clear signal gave by the student movement is that they would not put their political capital gained in this massive marches on a “mortgage” for any presidential candidate. They are single-minded in their demands, waiting for the candidates to pick a “side”.
So far the student demands have not got the support of the candidates of the right, or not even the socialist candidate, former president Michele Bachelet, who said she didn’t agree with the idea of free education for everyone.
LEÓN: All this anticipates an even more profound social struggle in Chile in the weeks and months to come until the election.
Many questions rise in the light of the facts. Will Bachelet change her mind to compromise with the students and gain their support? Is the Chilean left a real option for the social movements? Can they “break” Sebastian Piñeira’s determination?
We will be following the story.
For The Real News, this is Oscar León.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.