Dozens of Chilean high school students were detained in Santiago on Wednesday as a protest organized by the National Confederation of Secondary Students (CONES) turned ugly.
Police reports put the total number of protesters at 5.000, while CONES said there were 15.000.
“They detained students that were holding up a canvas and were doing absolutely nothing more,” CONES leader Cristofer Sarabia said.
The march was organized to protest profiteering in Chile’s educational system, and was scheduled on the one-year anniversary of the start of the Chilean Winter, a series of student protests that shock the country in 2011. CONES planned the march earlier this month earlier this month and received the backing of the Confederation of Chilean Students (CONFECH). A larger national student strike, also against profiteering, has been organized by CONFECH for June 28.
Profiteering has remained a central issue in Chilean education, as seven universities were found to have financial irregularities by an investigative committee on Monday. The National Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating further.
In addition to its anti-profiteering message, CONES declared the march to be in favour of free public education and the de-municipalization of schools. Sarabia condemned the government for its inaction and lack of supervision.
“After a year of mobilization where we took over more than 500 schools at a national level, we still don’t have concrete answers from the government” Sarabia said before the march.
The march began peacefully at 11 a.m. at Plaza Italia in downtown Santiago where students, many in school uniforms and carrying backpacks, held colourful signs and chanted, “A un año de lucha, aun no se escucha” (After a year of struggle, they still do not listen).
The march continued up to Estación Mapocho, the agreed endpoint of the march. There, skirmishes broke out between the protesters and Carabineros, Chile’s uniformed police. “Encapuchados” (hooded vandals) mixed in among the protesters began to hurl rocks, paint and other projectiles at the Carabineros.
By 1 p.m., the crowd was almost completely dispersed, as the Carabineros detained several students and separated the crowd by marching forward in tight phalanxes. Armoured trucks with blaring sirens and water cannons also contributed to breaking up the crowd.
As the students retreated from Estación Mapocho, they remained spirited, chanting and waving flags. The complaints from the protesters were varied, as public transport improvement and indigenous rights were also advocated for in addition to the end of profiteering.
Government spokesperson Andrés Chadwick acknowledged the rowdiness of the encapuchados, but said the march had otherwise been carried out normally and without major incident.
By Andrew Chow - The Santiago Times