Monday, January 20, 2014

Chile’s Education Protests

article from August 15, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

This past week has been very hard on Chile’s own version of Ayn Rand’s “capitalism without a conscience” philosophy, also known as “Chicago School of Economics-think,” “Uncle Miltonism” or just plain “neoliberalism.” I guess there are still a few isolated outposts in the world of those completely ignorant of the causes for what happened to Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the UK and, of course, the good ol’  “it can’t happen here” USA.

Of all the arrogant statements I ever have heard a national leader speak, this one takes the cake. It would have made Ronald Reagan and Howard Jarvis (remember California’s Proposition 13, which ruined the greatest educational system in the Americas?) very proud. It would have been their wet dream to have a president just come out and say what they were feeling: “Education is a consumer good.” This was recently uttered by Chile’s neoliberal billionaire President Sebastian Piñera.

Chile, after suffering through those long years of the military dictatorship of Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet, found itself without an education ministry, as that had been abolished, turning all those responsibilities over to the municipalities. Education had been removed as a responsibility of the state (to save money and keep those hotbeds of dissent, universities and high schools, under control). Pinochet’s harsh rule also rolled back social progress gained over several decades of enlightenment that sought to address the great social inequalities present in that narrow strip of land along the southern Pacific coastline of South America.

Chile is a developed-world economy in almost all aspect, except for the taking care of its less fortunate citizens. While Chile has one of the highest per capita income levels in Latin America, at the same time, it also sustains one of the region’s greatest income gaps. One visit to Santiago de Chile will convince you of that quickly, if you happen to visit between massive protests in the city center. It has all the conveniences of modern life, except a fair and equitable educational system. Remember the voucher program that the Republicans in the USA began to advocate a few years ago, along with privatizing Social Security? Well, Chile has done that with their educational system, and the rest of the world can learn from it.

Those who are wealthy enough never have to send their kids to public schools with vouchers. Instead, the vouchers are used to subsidize private education for the elite, creating a whole new elite which, in turn, will become the ruling class, using the good-old-boy network to fill all-important positions in government and private industry while creating another generation of under-educated laborers, a constant ready supply of cheap labor for the mines and industry.

Having run on a platform similar to that of George W. Bush, an “I’m super rich, but I’m really just one of you” sort of populist platform, he was able to defeat the socialist candidate who was handpicked by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, a moderate leftist, by assuring the people of Chile that he represented “change.” Sound familiar? He represented change all right! He moved more than to the center-right when he advocated education reform that would penalize the children of the poor even more by cutting funding for the education that is their birthright as Chileans.

He had no idea what a can of worms he was opening for himself (buen provecho). Working class Chileans have had enough of being treated as second-class citizens and being excluded from the wealth that circulates among the upper crust of the country. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets last week, demanding equal education for all, to which Piñera responded by making it illegal to protest and sending the riot police to bash heads and hose people down with high-pressure cold water in the cold winter temperatures in Santiago. Of course, that served as a catalyst for not only the lower classes, but also the children of the wealthy elite to come out and march in the streets and in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace.

Unfortunately, the carabineros overreacted, quite possibly on orders from higher ups, and then of course, the hooliganism ensued, started by a few looking to cause trouble. Stores were damaged with some looting and a few cars were burned. Overall, there were very large numbers of arrests of many peaceful protesters, but the majority of the injuries were sustained by the police. I watched live television coverage on TV Chile and was taken aback by the indiscriminate attacks on peaceful protesters by the carabineros.

The bottom line: the protest is ongoing, as students and an ever-growing number of supporters insist that there should be no profiteering allowed in public education and that higher education should be equitable and available to all.

President Piñera’s approval rating has hit rock bottom, reaching the lowest level of any Chilean President since the military dictatorship of Pinochet. But there is one good thing: The people of Chile are not imbued with short-term memories, where they quickly forget how badly they got screwed by their leaders. My bet is on Michelle Bachelet coming back to run against the aspiring Ronald Reagan of Chile, and she will beat him handily!

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
I still have some of that Fine Malbec Wine!

[Image: Chilean protest sign, No Selling of Education, via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

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