Friday, October 7, 2011

Harsh Repression Against Student Protesters in Chile

Rough translation of an article from the Mexico City daily La Jornada [more pictures from yesterday's clashes here and here]:
Santiago, October 6. Heavy clashes took place this Thursday in several parts of Santiago between Chilean police and marching students, during a day in which the police fired tear gas and water cannons against the protesters. There were 130 arrests, 25 police officers injured, and dozens of civilians wounded.

After the collapse of the dialogue between the right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera and representatives of the student movement on Wednesday night, the police attacked an unauthorized march through the Santiago Regional Government Building (intendencia metropolitana) when it was just beginning peacefully at the downtown Plaza Italia and starting to move down Alameda Bernardo O'Higgins Avenue toward the presidential palace of La Moneda.

The violence of the repression was of such magnitude that even student leaders were assaulted, among them Camila Vallejo, who ended up soaking with water and affected by the tear gas, along with various journalists and photographers from the local and international press. Radio Cooperativa de Chile reported that two journalists were wounded and a third was arrested.

The tear gas made it impossible to breathe, and several people who had been affected by the chemical gas and by the police's baton strikes had to be taken to hospitals. Many protesters responded by throwing sticks and rocks against the police, which spread the skirmishes through various areas of the city center.

The police charged indiscriminately, thus resulting in the injury of CNN journalist Nicolás Orarzún and Megavisión photographer Jorge Rodríguez. In addition, Chilevisión journalist Luis Narváez was arrested and "taken for a ride" in a police vehicle along with other arrested protesters.

Against accusations from the regional governor (intendente), Cecilia Pérez, that the student leadership was responsible for the "disorders" and that legal action will be taken against them, Vallejo deplored the way in which the government had confronted the movement.

"The intendencia gave them absolute freedom to repress, in order to not permit meetings in public spaces, and this is unacceptable because it violates a constitutional right," said Vallejo, spokesperson for the Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (CONFECH). She added that "the government is guilty because they have denied us everything: we ask for permission to march and they refuse, we ask for free education and they refuse again. What is the government trying to do?"

The Minister of the Interior, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, defended the so-called "anti-occupation" law, announced last Sunday by the government, through which it will seek to sanction those who occupy schools, public or private buildings, and those who cause damage during protests. The official said that he was sure that the members of the right-wing government represent the majority of Chileans.

After negotiations with the students and professors fell apart, the Minister of Education, Felipe Bulnes, declared that the Piñera government was "committed to advancing free education for the most vulnerable as well as credits and scholarships for the middle class, but not for all students." He added that they would continue to be open to dialogue.

He insisted that making education free forall would mean that "the poor would have to subsidize the education of the more wealthy." Along these lines, during the second meeting with the student leadership the government only offered the benefit to 40 percent of the student population, which finally lead to the collapse of the dialogue with the student movement.

Camila Vallejo said this morning that CONFECH would only be open to returning to the negotiating table if the Executive presents a new proposal with respect to the demand of free public education. While she affirmed that the attitude of the movement isn't "all or nothing," she emphasized that the will not continue discussions that are based on the government's current plan.

She noted that Minster Bulnes had said that the government doesn't want the poorest sectors to pay for the wealthier ones, and added that "we don't want this either, what we want is for the rich to pay for the [services used by the] poorest and middle class sectors. This will happen through tax reform."

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