As they warned earlier in June that they would do, Chilean students took to the streets, with the help of miners and fishermen, who blocked access to mines and harbors on Thursday. The revolts happened just before the presidential primaries, which will take place on Sunday.
The movement started in Santiago in the early hours of Thursday, when central streets were blocked with bonfires near the university campus. The surrounding area was severely damaged, including local businesses, bus stops and traffic lights, and traffic was stopped for hours. By the end of Thursday, 16 people had been arrested, and around 10 had been injured.
Minister of Homeland Security Andrés Chadwick stated that the movement was planned by violent groups, who ignored the government request for a peaceful conversation and committed acts of vandalism throughout the capital.
The organizers of the protest condemned vandalism and emphasized the fact that they managed to get more than 100,000 people in the street. “Today it was confirmed that our demands are shared by the whole Chilean society,” President of the Student Federation Andrés Fielbaum said to Spanish newspaper El País.
These protests inherit the spirit of the student mobilizations of 2006 that demanded the renovation of the Chilean educational system, which dates back to the Pinochet dictatorship years. In Chile, only 36 percent of the schools are state-funded, and even public schools cost thousands of dollars per year.
Such a system allows for only 65 percent of Chileans to finish school before they turn 24, according to data cited by Argentinean newspaper Página 12.
Student revolts became viral in 2011 and have continued at a low intensity since then. For the first time now, other sectors of society have joined in the cause. Copper miners protested in Calama, north of Santiago, where they blocked Chuquicatama, the biggest mine in the country. Similar events happened in El Teniente, south of the capital. In the coastal towns of Talcahuano, San Antonio and Valparaíso, fishermen kept more than 2,000 boats on shore.
President Sebastián Piñera announced that Congress is studying a law that would allow police to ask for ID in case of chaos or public disorder. The measure would even require people who are not suspected of committing a crime to identify themselves. Piñera assured that this is not a restriction of freedom, but Fielbaum disagreed, saying that this “reeks of arrest under suspicion.”
Student demands are part of the program of the presidential candidates, who will be running for their parties' choice on Sunday. Polls point at former President Michelle Bachelet, who criticized the protests, as winner for the center-left and Andrés Allamand for the center-right opposition. Presidential elections will take place in November.