Thursday’s march by Chilean striking students and their supporters may signal an end to an unprecedented four months of student unrest – if the number of demonstrators proves to be small.
But if the students are successful in turning out large numbers of supporters across the nation, Thursday may mark a new beginning for the students’ quest to put an end to Chile’s profit-oriented, class-based education system and to guarantee quality public education for all, writes Steve Anderson, The Santiago Times editor in chief in an editorial piece.
Although polls suggest that support for the students remains strong at 67% (down from 76% a month ago), the government is betting that the movement is running out of gas; that student fears of losing their academic year or their financial aid will trump their idealism.
The government of President Sebastian Piñera has made some gestures to deal with the protests – lowering interest rates for university loans and announcing new public schools for gifted high schoolers – but not nearly enough to appease the students.
Recognizing that idealism can take them only so far, student leaders are now designing plans to continue their strikes through the end of the year, albeit in a way that would allow regular classes to resume.
So that’s where it stands.
We suspect that the number of protesters reported by the Thursday will be greatly disputed, with the government and police reporting fewer demonstrators than there actually are, and the students reporting greater numbers.
And we suspect that no matter how great the numbers or how much longer the issue dominates the news, there will be little, if any immediate change.
That’s at least partly because many of the Chile’s business and political leaders - both left and right - have invested heavily in the country’s privatized education system. They like the money it makes them and they like the control it gives them of the educational forum.
Former Education Minister Joaquín Lavín, for example, a member of the Catholic Church’s Opus Dei sect, reportedly made US$20 million when he sold his interest in the Universidad del Desarrollo, of which he was a founder.
One would suppose that a politician of one stripe or another would find this situation fertile grounds building a political future.
Maybe. But don’t expect any important moves from the opposition centre-left Concertacion coalitio. As one of our favorite political analysts, Patricio Fernández, editor of The Clinic, says: (The opposition center-left Concertación politicans) have morphed their leadership in social and cultural matters into a kind of club for generals, but without an army. People, who in other times would have looked to them for leadership, now don’t even acknowledge them. Only a small percentage of those opposed to the Piñera government identify with the Concertación.
“The only leftist party that has to some degree capitalized on the discontent has been the Communist Party, even though its popular support is negligible. Almost no one, today, is a Communist, although leaders like Camila Vallejo have no problem owning up to their political views”.
So what does this mean for Chile’s political “leaders” of today?
By Steve Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) - The Santiago Times