The struggle to transform Chile's education system has escalated. For the second time this year, students and teachers marched under the slogan “The path for a new education is for Chile to decide”. Students all over the country marched against the government on 14 May. More than 150,000 marched in Santiago.
It was an important step forward for the student movement. The march was organised by the Chilean Confederation of University Students, (CONFECH) two national high school organisations (CONES and ACES) and the national teachers union (Colegio de Profesores).
The students are demanding transparency of and involvement in the government’s education changes. Students argue that these shouldn't be decided in the boardrooms of corporations but by the people and for the people. They want free education, an end to profit making from education, an end to subcontracting staff and better pay and conditions for staff.
The successful protest, however, was marred by the news that two students, Diego Guzmán and Exequiel Borbarán, were shot and killed at a march in Valparaiso.
A confrontation occurred when a father and son angry about graffiti on their property began to argue with protesters. The situation escalated quickly when the son attacked people with his belt. He then grabbed a pistol from his home and opened fire on the protesters, killing Guzmán and Borbarán.
Neither of the protesters was responsible for the graffiti, but they have still been vilified as delinquents by the media. The Federation of Students at the University of Chile (FECH) said in a statement: “We understand this is not an isolated case; this is a consequence of a societal model where the individual supersedes the collective, which includes putting more importance on private property over the lives of others.”
Students have not been deterred by the murders. The FECH argued: “We have to come out with more strength … this is the best way to maintain the memory of our comrades”. Students returned to the streets on the same day, organising marches and vigils. In Santiago, thousands of protesters demanded justice. Demonstrations, occupations and direct actions have been occurring daily.
They have escalated the struggle by occupying their high schools and universities.
On 21 May, Michelle Bachelet unveiled proposals for her second year as president. In an address to Congress, she highlighted the areas that student protesters have been fighting around: transparency, democracy, an end to corruption and progressive reforms. The speech sounded fantastic. The problem for the president is that no one believes a word of it.
Outside, more than 5,000 people marched, demanding systemic change rather than empty words and band-aid reforms. They were met with a heavy-handed police response that left student Rodrigo Avilés in intensive care.
Inside the parliament, the government promises the world. Outside, the fight back continues. For now, students are leading the way.