Students clashed with police in Santiago, Chile, on Thursday (April 16) during a protest demanding education reforms, and denouncing political corruption.
The protest, organized by the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech), was largely peaceful, but saw pockets of agitation as police launched gas and water jets to disperse protesters, some of whom threw back molotov cocktails.
The organization expected some 150,000 to join the movement, while police said 20,000 attended, according to Radio Cooperativa.
The principle demand of the majority involved in the movement is for free, quality, public education, despite some divisions within the movement.
President of the Catholic University Student Federation (FEUC), Ricardo Sande, has said that he thinks education should only be free for social sectors with lesser resources, but marked his presence at Thursday’s rally nevertheless, protesting for improvements in education.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s election pledges included raising corporate taxes to pay for an overhaul of education, reforming labour relations and changing the electoral system devised by the late military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Bachelet made education free between kindergarten and high school this year and is discussing a bill for free university-level education, but many worry that sufficient funds have not been provisioned in order for it to go ahead.
A series of events in recent months also sapped the government’s ability to push on with an already ambitious reform drive, and saw Bachelet’s approval ratings plunge to their lowest level ever at the beginning of the month.
These included an erupting volcano, forest fires, worsening drought and finally floods in the north, which left 23 dead, a number of towns devastated and thousands in temporary accommodation.
Bachelet also faced questions over her daughter-in-law’s access to a large bank loan, while the country’s right wing and its business elite have been rocked by a campaign financing scandal.
The scandals and badly handled disasters only added insult to injury for many who feel the government is failing on its promises, and does not represent them.
“Enough of this democracy which only serves the big businessmen, which is at the service of a select few. No, we want a real and participatory democracy in which social actors are really heard,” said Confech President Valentina Saavedra at the rally.