I remember the tear gas and the water cannons in Santiago.
Guest post from my good amigo Roberto Navarrete
While watching the images of the student demonstrations currently taking place in Chile I felt a sense of déjà vu. Santiago, Chile’s capital, is encircled by the Andes mountains, and in winter, when the cold atmosphere causes pollutants to settle at ground level, it is one of the most polluted cities in the world. As a young student growing up in Chile I remember the asphyxiating atmosphere created by the pollution compounded by high levels of tear gas and the cold water cannons with which the police always responded to peaceful student demonstrations.
The same toxic atmosphere is now being inflicted on the current generation of students who are out in the streets demanding structural reforms to the country’s largely privatised education system. This time, however, it looks like police repression will not be enough to stem the discontent that has been simmering for several years and that is now exploding on the streets. The wide array of social movements that have become mobilised, coupled with the wide appeal of the movement’s leadership suggest that a real political transformation may be a serious possibility in Chile.
The immediate trigger for the current uprising has been the students’ demands for a free and state financed education with the movement comprising both school and university students. Since May, some 700 schools have been occupied by secondary school students and almost daily street protests have been taking place ever since. In mid-August around half a million students and their families took part in a demonstration in a park in central Santiago. The students have also managed to connect their struggles with other sectors of Chilean society. A week after the park demonstration, the students joined a national strike declared by Chile’s trade union confederation (CUT), mobilising again half a million people onto the streets of Santiago.