Chilean Students and Police Clash at Protest

Police report 100 arrests after violent clashes with protesters.

Source: The Santiago Times

Thousands of high school and university students marched in Santiago on Thursday to express their frustration with a government that they say has been increasingly skirting their demands. While police reported 5,000 protesters, students offered a much higher estimate of 70,000.

The protest also comes as a prelude to the congressional debate over the 2013 budget, which students insist must have a special focus on education. The administration has said it plans for education spending to reach a record 20 percent of the budget.

The march began near Santiago’s Estación Central along La Alameda, the city’s main street, and according to the registered route was due to turn south about six blocks in, along Avenida España. Violence broke out upon reaching the designated turn, however, and the crowd was soon engulfed by a medley of tear gas and water cannons from the police barricade.

It remains unclear whether police or protesters initiated the violence, but heated interchanges continued for several hours. Students hurled concrete blocks, glass bottles, paint balls and molotov coctails at police vehicles, while police responded with more tear gas.

Unable to continue along the designated route, the crowd dispersed along side streets, breaking windows, uprooting traffic lights and street signs and burning trash bins in its wake.

“Excessive amounts of tear gas and water cannons were used. There were too many police here today,” humans rights observer Elisa Disqueto told The Santiago Times.

Javiera Campos Menendez, another human rights observer, seconded Disqueto’s opinion.

“(There was) very little respect for human rights today. We have just witnessed three completely illegal arrests of protesters for no motive,” she said.

After the dust had settled, 23 police were wounded, and 106 protesters had been arrested, the majority of which were minors. Similar protests were registered in the cities of Valparaiso and Concepción, which saw an estimated 3,000 and 5,000 attendees respectively.

Thursday’s protest was organized by the Coordinating Assembly for Secondary Students (ACES), the National Coordination of Secondary Students (CONES) and supported by the umbrella organization the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech).

Leading up to and during the protest, ACES also parroted another proposed response to government inaction: boycotting municipal elections at the end of October.

“We want to convince citizens to realize that changes come through social movements and not elections,” ACES spokesperson Eloisa González told La Tercera in the lead-up to the protest.

Josefa, a journalism student who chose not to provide her last name, echoed González’s remarks.

“We know that elections won’t change anything this is why they are calling to vote null or not vote,” she told The Santiago Times. “The government is not going to give us anything. If we want something we have to fight for it.”

Not all at the demonstration, however, supported ACES’s message.

Ana Maria Vera, a parent at the protest, carried a sign reading “if you don’t vote then you can’t say anything after.” While a supporting the student movement, she hoped to inspire students to head to the polls despite ACES’s call for boycott.

“Here we have a very important campaign trying to get kids not to vote. But if we on the left don’t vote, than the right will win the presidency. Its the only thing we have, we don’t have any other option,” she told the Santiago Times.