article from October 21, 2011
By Jamie Douglas
For many months now, the student protests all up and down Chile have disrupted President Piñera’s plans to privatize Chile. The protests have shut down almost all educational institutions in Chile’s cities and larger towns. At issue is something going back to the days of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the slow but steady strangulation of public education by starving it of public funds. Taxpayers’ monies are supporting private and parochial schools, where the children of the elite are being educated to be the next elite leaders, keeping it all in the inner circle of the rich and powerful who have ruled this nation since its founding in 1818. The children of a lesser God’s parents have to get loans, at way-above-normal interest rates, to send their children to better schools, hoping to give them an equal chance at a bright future by assuming crippling debts that will paralyze them financially for years to come. And this is where the president’s stubborn refusal to even talk about increasing public funding for free education comes in.
First a little background on Piñera: He was born into extremely privileged circumstances, with his father having been in bed with every dictator Chile has had, getting appointed as Ambassador to Belgium and later the United Nations. Sebastián was a smart boy, excelling in school and receiving a partial Fulbright scholarship to attend Harvard University for his postgraduate studies in economics. In 1971, he became a professor of economic political theory at the University of Chile, and in 1972, he became a professor at the Valparaiso Business School. He was a quite but ardent supporter of the murderous regime of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, even running the campaign for Hernán Büchi, one of Pinochet’s former finance ministers.
With all of his connections, he became a major player in the Chilean financial sector, acquiring ChileVision and 27% of the Airline LAN Chile, along with many other enterprises. In 1982, he used his position as general manager of the Bank of Talca to illegally enrich himself. An arrest warrant was issued, and he promptly went into hiding, leaving little doubt as to his culpability. The Chilean Supreme Court acquitted him 24 days later (Surprise!). In 2007 he paid a fine in the amount of US$680,000 for insider trading, a fraction of what he had gained by it.
Since coming into office March 11, 2010, his personal fortune has increased by $200 million. His net worth is estimated to be around $2.5 billion. He brought Visa to Chile, helping to make his country a debtor nation, and he is heavily invested in the very banks that make the high-interest educational loans to the middle class.
And so it all becomes crystal clear. He has no interest in making education a taxpayer-funded privilege of all citizens, from kindergarten to university, as it can be found in Uruguay, where education is not a consumer good to be exploited by neocons.
Now comes the most astonishing development of all: While the Chilean Burro has hardened his stance, two of the most influential business organization in the country – the Society for the Promotion of Manufacturing (SPM) and the Chilean Export Manufacturer’s Association (CEMA) – have urged the “No new taxes during my administration” president to “Please raise our taxes!” in order to help pay for social demands such as education. Says Felipe Lamarca, head of the influential SPM, “Once and for all we have to do something. Our country has grown a lot, and now we must address the problem of inequality. For that we need a tax reform to help solve the lack of fairness.” And CEMA head Roberto Fantuzzi added, “Nobody likes to have taxes increased, but when you face serious problems and anguish, you must do it.”
Piñera’s response was not unexpected: “There are those who believe that the only education that matters is higher education.” This coming from a man who, as a highly privileged youth, was sent to the finest educational institution money and influence could buy. His Finance Minister, Felipe Larraìn, who vehemently opposes any increase in taxes, backed him up: “Social demands should not be allowed to destroy all that we have managed to achieve in this country.”
Ninety percent of Chileans support the students’ demands and want the system to be changed. And what is their government’s response? Screw the people – let them eat medialunas!
San Rafael, Mendoza
[Official Government Photograph of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera]
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