Students Hold Violent Protests in Chile
Demanding education reform, students are planning protests in 14 Latin American countries after such demonstrations first erupted in Chile more than six months ago
Some of the protesters claimed that education took a backseat during the continent's rapid economic growth over recent years, while most gains went to companies and the private sector.
In Chile, the protests have involved more than 100,000 middle school and college students supported by university professors and many of the general public. On Thursday, tens of thousands of students took to the streets for the 42nd national protest, which caused traffic jam in a large part of the capital Santiago and other cities, as the previous ones did.
"We expect that the protest will reach far and touch every corner of the country, and in this way add strength to the university movements which now are being mobilized in so many countries," said Patricio Contreras, student leader of Los Lagos University.
The students wanted to demonstrate their discontent with the lack of education budget and the way their country's politicians were handling the debate on reform of the educational system.
The Chilean government rejected the protest as unnecessary. Spokesman Andres Chawick said lawmakers were holding intense discussions about the students' appeal.
Education Minister Felipe Bulnes met last week with opposition congress members to discuss possible education reforms. The opposition rejected the education fund contained in the 2012 budget, saying it was not enough to resolve the actual crisis in the education sector.
Students, especially those from middle schools, were also dissatisfied with the government's plan, saying it only covered the university sector.
The Chilean student leaders said they had received messages of support from groups in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Paraguay, El Salvador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Guatemala. Student groups in many of these countries were organizing parallel protests, calling for more budget funds to be allocated to the education sector.
Students were coordinating activities through social network sites like Facebook and Twitter.
In the Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro, students were preparing for protests and other activities at the main Cinelandia Square under the slogan "Education is not part of the free market."
In the Colombian capital of Bogota, meanwhile, university students were planning to meet in the main Bolivar Plaza and at a number of different sites across the capital. Cultural events, a concert and other activities have been organized in some cities across the country to rally for support.
"What has to be made clear is that universities are fundamental not only to the production of inter-country knowledge but above all they have the potential to bring about real development in the countries and in the continent as a whole," said Paola Galindo of Colombia's National Board of Students.
"This is why it is fundamental to fight for a better education as part of the basic rights of the citizens," she added.
Student protestors as far away as in France, Spain, Germany and Canada have announced they were in touch with their fellow student groups in Latin America and would plan similar protests in solidarity.
A report released recently by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Latin America must now turn economic growth into sustainable economic and social development to ensure continued progress.