Lemme Rant! Student Protests in Chile

Tuesday, June 1, 2010: 4,000 high school and university students march on Santiago. Similar protests in Valparaíso….

AGAIN? Are you serious? Didn’t we just finish up a round of protests? Can anyone remember the last time we got through an entire semester without schools shutting down and students taking to the streets?

Rant topic: Student Protests

Please excuse me while I blow off a bit of steam… Please feel free to rant  back, add fuel to the fire, or try to explain this whole thing. I think a serious conversation is long overdue.

I’ve given a lot of thought to these issues over the years. Read on some reflections on the subject, my proposal for a BILL OF RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES FOR STUDENT PROTESTS, and a final conclusion for each of three groups: students, university administrations, and governmental authorities… read on…OK, let’s back up and start with a couple disclaimers:

First: let me start by saying that I full-heartedly support students’ right to protest.  Clear? This is a democracy, and people have the right to protest in a democracy. Punto. Period. ¿Cachái? Got it?

Second: Of course I know that not all students nor all universities (or high schools) are involved in the about-to-be-ranted-upon topic.

Third: I agree that students do have their reasons to be upset, disgruntled, seek change, etc. No argument from me there either. I also get it that students–around the world–have a boundless faith in their ability to change the course of humanity. I’ve seen it. They can be amazing. I applaud and encourage that.

Fourth: I am not, nor have I ever been, a conservative thinker or member of any right of center political movement.

So what’s my problem? In a nutshell: the apparent lack of understanding that:

Rights come with Responsibilities!

You want to protest? Something bothering you enough to ditch classes and take to the streets? Good, go for it… but be prepared to pay for your actions! That should be simple common sense!You want to be treated like an adult; act like one. Take a stand and accept the consequences! If your cause is strong enough to shut down the university for weeks or even months, then you should be willing to sacrifice the semester for that cause. If you don’t learn the required material for the given semester, you repeat the course in a later one.

But that’s not the case here in Chile. Student protests–and I cannot remember the last time we got through an entire semester without one–may range from simple one-day marches through the city, speeches, and serious discussions with members of the university and national governments, to long, drawn-out tomas in which students (even high school students–check out the Penguin Protests of 2006) take over the universities and lock themselves in squatter style for extended periods of time. The weird thing is how everyone kowtows to them instead of demanding they get out or go to jail. When marches turn violent–and they often do–and students (and more often hooded (encapuchado) non-related hangers’ on) destroy public and private property, throw rocks through windows, tear up streets signs, shatter bus stops… who takes the responsibility? Tax payers. Sure some offenders get caught and hauled off, but as I understand it, they are held until their parents come pick them up and neither offender nor parent is held responsible for damage done. Why not?

When the whole thing settles down, the tear gas dissipates, and the semester draws to a close, of course the full semester’s material has not been covered. Classes are extended for a week or so and exams are revised to cover only the material they actually had time to cover. (What’s that say about educational levels? When do the students actually learn everything they missed each semester?) Professors sacrifice the inter-semester break that they had intended for research, travel, or course planning to make up classes missed while the students were out on strike.

And did I mention that it’s a relatively small percentage of students who participate? The two main players are the two major state universities–the Universidad de Chile and the smaller, but no less important, Universidad de Santiago (USACH). The Universidad Católica and the private universities rarely–if ever–get involved. A quick Google search turned up that the U de Chile had approximately 30,000 students in 2009. I couldn’t find the info for USACH, but let’s guess about half and round it off to about 45,000 students most directly affected by university shutdowns. Of those, care to guess how many actually participate in the marches? Police estimate that approximately 4,000 high school and university students participated in today’s march. What did the rest do with their time?

This rant is going to end, as good rants often do, with a proposal of what I would do if I were in charge, which of course I’m not, so it’s easy for me to say, but oh so obvious that I don’t know why I should have to say it in the first place and I KNOW I’m going to catch flack for this but here goes anyway cuz I’m already on a roll…

Student Bill of Rights & Responsibilities for Protesting

  • Your Right to Protest is guaranteed.
  • Responsibility for your actions is your Obligation.
  • Violence will not be tolerated. This is as true for the authorities as it is for those engaged in any form of protest.
  • All persons caught committing acts of violence, vandalism, or other infringements of the law will be detained and held materially and legally responsible for their actions. This means that adult students and parents of any minor participant will be held financially responsible for any material damage done. In cases of mass damages when it is impossible to determine a specific responsible party, the total amount of the damages will be divided among all those held responsible.
  • In addition to taking monetary responsibility for damages, violators will be assigned a specific number of hours of community service, during which they will present themselves–outside of school hours–to clean up, paint, scrub graffiti, participate in repairing damages and in overall city maintenance following a protest.
  • All course work is the students’ responsibility. Semesters and course requirements will not be adjusted to accommodate time missed for protests. Exams will be given on the date scheduled and on the same material whether classes were held or not. Teachers will assign reading material to allow students to make up missed.

And finally, here’s what it all boils down to:

Students: if you take your cause seriously, by all means stand up for it and be prepared to take the responsibility. If you don’t like the consequences; don’t participate in the action. Don’t want to have to pay for repairs? Don’t do the damage! Don’t want to clean up after yourselves? Don’t make the mess in the first place. Don’t want to fail an exam because you missed the classes while others were out fighting for a cause that does not particularly motivate you? Don’t let the few dictate university strikes and shut-downs.

And by the way… try being more realistic in your requests and maybe you’ll get some of them without having to riot in the streets! Universities have staff to pay and operating expenses and have to charge tuition. And yes, they are going to make you take the entrance exam. Get over it… making those kinds of demands are like asking for the plane to Cuba…you’re not going to get anywhere.

Faculty & Administrators: Who’s in charge anyway? Make your policies and stick to them. This does not imply you are falling back on the tactics of past repressive regimes… it means you are running an orderly organization capable of accomplishing the goals it sets forth.

Also–since much of the students’ issue is focused on how to pay for an education, how about looking for some real alternative ways to study, such as part time, for example? That way a student could work AND go to school.

Governmental Authorities:  Give the students and their families a break. Work with them to find a way to help those who really want an education to get one. Make student loans more accessible and give them a break on interest rates! And how about a grace period for payback? Give the student 6 months to find a job before having to start to repay the loan! Or have very low monthly payments while in school and bump them up after the student finds a job. Get creative! There must be ways for everyone student in Chile to have the education he or she wants and needs!

OK- have at it… comments?

24 responses to “Lemme Rant! Student Protests in Chile

  1. Umm… lamentablemente no siempre las cosas resultan como uno quiere. Y si no me explico bien, lo siento que muchas veces no se como explicar lo que pienso…

    Muchos de mi universidad fueron a marchar hoy. Envalentonados con un sentimiento en contra muchas de las cosas las cuales hoy en día le falta a la educación, hoy fueron a las 9:00 AM a Provi a marchar, aunque teníamos pruebas.

    Ahora, muchas veces, los que hacen los agravios no son los estudiantes, sino gente que se mete solo para hacer embarradas.

    Junto con otros que se suben al carro, y no niego que hay estudiantes de por medio.

    Y es cierto. Lo que pedimos es muy alto a lo que podemos. Muchos de los puntos que presentamos necesitan más que un cambio en unas palabras de la legislación.
    Aunque hay puntos que como mínimo son posibles de arreglar — solo que éstos no les conviene ser cambiados a la gente que tiene el dinero en sus manos.

    Ahora, en la marcha pasada, el señor Ministro de Educación respondió con un leve: “No es tiempo de hacer esto”. Es decir, no le valieron nada las horas gastadas en la marcha estudiantil.
    Yo creo, realmente, que van a seguir habiendo más marchas.

    Y yo la verdad espero que hayan más marchas. Aunque ésta vez no solo sean centralizadas en Valparaíso o en Santiago. Quizá eso llame un poco más la atención.

    Y… solo eso. El paro de hoy la verdad no lo apoyé, más que nada porque no iba a causar ningún cambio. Aunque sí es probable que vengan nuevas cosas. Y no solo del área estudiantil.

  2. Gracias Paloma-
    Porsiaca- quiero que esté claro que entiendo perfectamente–creo que todos lo entendemos–que no son los estudiantes serios que causan los daños, sino los otros ajenos, como mencionas, que vienen para puras liseras y jodas.
    Tampoco niego los problemas. Hay. Solo quiero decir que los que luchan en serio están preparados a hacer sacrificios por su causa… incluso si significa perder un semestre.
    Por otro lado, es más que claro que faltan formas más efectivas de formar un diálogo real entre las diferentes partes involucradas…

  3. I agree with you 100%, but I think the root of the problem is much deeper, hence harder to solve. A major problem with protests are the delinquent encapuchados. They join the protest only to destroy and steal, and they are usually the only ones who don’t get arrested (they don’t stick around for too long. And a history of slap-in-the-wrist punishments has only increased this issue. Another big problem lies within the university’s administration. During the shameful yearly “dia del joven combatiente” protests -and I know this first hand-, deans and other university officials safeguard students (read delinquents) running from police, taking shelter in universities. They just close the doors with the students inside and forbid entrance to the authorities.
    I think a stronger hand is needed. Like you said, make students responsible for their actions and make parents and institutions alike responsible for the students. But not the taxpayers anymore.

  4. Es que… no se si hay formas, la verdad. Los paros ni las tomas sirven…

  5. @Chefgarcia- Carlos- you’re right–the problems run deep and are also deeply intertwined with all that happened here during the dictatorship, and even though the events of today have nothing at all to do with those times, many of the ways of acting and reacting stay the same… and going nowhere!

  6. @Paloma–tampoco creo que las tomas y paros sirven de mucho. Trabajaba en el centro en 2006 durante el tiempo de los pinguinos y la gente estaba bastante enojada y muy poco dispispuesta a respaldar a los estudiantes por cause de tantos problemas de toda índole!

  7. Absolutely. This is what you get with 20 years of Concertación. It’s high time a strong dose of personal responsibility was injected back into Chilean society and especially its youth. A serious crackdown on the encapuchados/flaites would be a good start.

    If university management wants to shelter delinquents, fire said “management” and put serious people in their place. I hope the new government is not going to fiddle at the margins on these matters.

    You’re also right that education here is very expensive and needs to be more affordable for the students who actually work. Cracking down on crime won’t do much if there’s no real upward mobility available to anyone regardless of means.

  8. @Olivier–I think it’s too easy to blame this complex problem on the Concertación–but yes, a call for responsibility at all levels is certainly called for.

  9. Erm. For those of you who say it’s only the trouble makers and not the students who are the ones up in there causando embarradas, I personally know many a La Catolica student that I met in my time on study abroad there that prove differently. My own husband was a rebel child in high school and went to protests when he was younger to be able to throw stuff at police.

    Lots of students will even admit that they go to the protests not really because they care about protesting but just to have some fun.

    It’s far too easy to make the students out to be the victims in their fight against The Man.

    Yes. The system is broken. Yes. People should have the right to protest peacefully. But that’s never what happens. The protesting system is also broken.

  10. Wow, you tell em Kyle!
    Of course it’s exciting to participate and there’s adrenaline involved in running from the police… but is this a responsible way to run a democracy?
    I agree Kyle, it’s broken… time to fix it and get everyone heard–without the vandamlism and violence!

  11. Me cargan estas protestas estudiantiles, porque la mayoria solo lo hace para perder clases y causar destrozos. Debido al estupido comportamiento que algunos estudiantes tuvieron el ano 2006, perjudicaron a aquellos que realmente querian un cambio en el sistema. El dia que los estudiantes realmente se comprometan a protestar por sus ideales, y no por diversion, quizas se pueda hacer algo.

  12. Pingback: Lemme Rant! Student Protests in Chile « Cachando Chile … life university

  13. No me sorprenden sus declaraciones, las he oído por casi 30 años y, por supuesto, estas protestas son probablemente más viejas que esto. Algo he oído de Mayo del 68.
    Primero debo decir que en mi experiencia buena parte de los encapuchados si son estudiantes universitarios. Que cubrirse obviamente tiene por objeto eludir las sanciones. En otros tiempos las sanciones incluian detención, tortura y en ocasiones muerte, lo que hacía imprescindible el pañuelo en la cara.
    Otra cosa es que estos estudiantes universitarios sean o tengan su origen en el lumpen. Si consideramos que una parte del país vive una realidad bastante violenta no es de extrañar que los afortunados que llegan a la universidad provenientes de estos sectores (flaites les dicen algunos en un intento por alienarlos y despojarlos de su humanidad) utilicen la violencia. Por lo demás, la violencia no es monopolio de nadie, todos ponen su cuota, ya sea de violencia física o de violencia verbal o de violencia social. He presenciado violencia innecesaria por parte de estudiantes pero también de carabineros y autoridades locales y nacionales, cuando lo mejor para apagar los fuegos es el agua no tiene sentido arrojar bencina.
    Por lo demás, ¿que se enseña en los colegios de democracia? ¿hay clases que enseñen algo de política en los liceos? ¿cual es la participación democratica que tienen los chilenos más allá de votar cada pocos años si buena parte de los que llegan a profesionales tienen dificultades para entender lo que leen? ¡ni siquiera hay grupos de debate en los liceos! ¿como aprendemos a resolver nuestras diferencias si no sabemos resolverlas conversando o discutiendo? Es una realidad en los colegios básicos y medios que los alumnos resuelven sus problemas mediante la violencia y ya sabemos que los niños pequeños imitan el comportamiento de los adultos.
    Me detengo porque esto ya es un tanto extenso.

  14. Most of my class didn’t attend yesterday because of the strike, which was very frustrating as it’s meant we’ve had to put an assessment back (I’m not so mean as to make them take it without the preparation lesson I’d planned. Although maybe I should have.). The kids who didn’t attend were the ones who don’t have a good study ethic and I think that a couple may have just taken themselves under to 80% attendance required to pass. Which is a shame.

    What I found frustrating is that none of my students could explain exactly why the strike was happening. The most specific answer I got was that they were worried about Pinera putting up university fees. I’m all for the right to strike, but I agree with the need for responsibility. When I went on strike a few years ago, I forfeited a days’ pay. And I accepted that. I don’t think mine would have happily accepted the assessment going ahead on schedule anyway!

  15. I think the problem is a much larger one that just the system being broken as in schools being bad and not up to par with private schools or schools in other countries. Part of what your rant entails is that they do not take responsibility for their actions. I perceive that as being more of a generational problem than a problem with the protests. I think the problems that the protesters face are real, but also we live in a time when it seems like parents are enabling their children more and more to think that nothing is their fault. It’s happening in the US and I see it happening here to. So, yes, I do think that Chilean students have reason to be upset with their school system. However, I think the problems are the result of two different core issues.

  16. Hi everyone and thanks for all the comments while I was away yesterday.
    I’ll answer in a couple parts / Contestaré en un par de partes:
    @Brian- lástima que algo que podría ser positivo (luchar por una causa) se transforma en algo ampliamente percibido como una trampita de niños para hacer la cimarra…
    @Esteban-buen comentario sobre un corriente de violencias (sí plurarles) que al parecer subyace muchos de los problemas sociales que vemos.
    También buen punto sobre la idea de enseñar desde niño la manera de discutir inteligentemente para realmente poder llegar a resolver un problema.

  17. @Teacher: I think you hit a big part of the problem right on the head: how many of the students who missed classes were unable to truly explain why…
    And since when is a president going to raise fees in a university? That’s not a presidential decision! Besides, it’s in the country’s best interest that as many students as possible receive good university educations!
    Sounds like a case of people half-hearing what they’re only partially interested in hearing…
    Also- your point about losing a day’s pay for going on strike… that’s the responsibility part I’m talking about… your union (or whatever group was on strike) felt strongly enough to make a sacrifice to get their point across.

  18. @Sara- yes, you’re raising yet another side to this very clearly complex issue!
    First let me say that the responsibility issue is not part of my rant… it pretty much IS the rant… but you bring in the inter-generational component… a whole new can of worms!
    Back during the Penguino Protests in 2006, when high-school kids were taking over schools, I kept asking myself “where are their parents?” I just don’t get how/why someone would let their 16-year-old hole-up in a school for days or weeks on end… It’s not even a case of being overly strict–it’s just common sense. Does that really sound so illogical not to allow your child to engage in an unsupervised activity that also happens to be ILLEGAL?

    Chileans are always surprised to hear that they are generally far more lenient and permissive with their children than US families are (there’s another entire issue for later discussion), but as you say Sara, each generation has its own take on things, although your comment about children thinking nothing is their fault refers to a generation of “millennials” being encouraged to express their opinions (good) without taking responsibility for the responses (not good). If I see what you’re getting at, it goes something like this:
    A kid (in the US, for example) has an outburst in class, swears at the teacher, knocks over his or her desk, and storms out of class. The teacher has very little recourse for discipline and the parents often back the child’s right to expression… In other words… temper tantrums are to be tolerated. Sorry… I’m all for free speech, but outright disrespect and public temper tantrums are a form of violence and are not appropriate behavior…especially for anyone who wants to be taken seriously.
    And that’s pretty much what seems to happening here with student protests–a serious attempt to express an opinion about a problem is not heard (creating a 2nd problem) and that turns into a temper tantrum (next generation self-destructive problem) that is tolerated by society in general (further exacerbating the problem on a more global scale)… rippling rings of unresolved problems…
    And this is not even beginning to touch on the history of violence that generated far more serious protests in the 70s and 80s!
    Like we’ve all said… a big issue!

  19. Pero, hay una diferencia entre una paralización de actividades en demanda de beneficios y una protesta para corregir una inequidad o error administrativo o judicial, creo yo. En el segundo caso la responsabilidad original es de quién comete el error y es tan asi que cuando las condiciones lo permiten se suele solicitar la renuncia a ese actor. Y si la responsabilidad del error recae en una autoridad, ¿porqué debo yo asumir la responsabilidad por las consecuencias de una desición erronea, protesta incluida? En el caso de los estudiantes que reclaman por falta de recursos para estudiar para ellos o para sus compañeros ¿deben sumar ademas consecuencias por las protestas cuando ya han sufrido consecuencias por las carencias debido a esas desiciones? Sumemos a eso el sentimiento de que las autoridades no son representativas y tenemos el terreno listo para estallidos sociales como el de los pingüinos.

  20. As I am from the UK and only visit Chile about twice a year, I don’t know enough about the student protests to comment in much detail. However the actions of some protestors who have their own agenda and the problems of hangers on who have nothing to do with the matter in hand seem to be problems common to protests everywhere.
    These days in the trend in the UK seems to be for the children to be the absolute centre of some families and for pretty well all family activities to be child centric. OK, this has to be the case some degree but, so far as I remember, children 40 years ago were brought up as part of the family rather than the be all and end all of the family. Is this trend reflected in pupil outbursts and such?
    As with all human interactions, the line between being made to take responsibility and repression is vague and dependent on perspective as much as anything. Margaret’s suggestions contain much common sense and certainly bear further examination if only to protect the majority of students disadvantaged by the few. The devil, as they say, will be in the detail.

  21. Hi Jack-
    Thanks for your input on this… also thanks for your vote of confidence (disclaimer: I do not know Jack, nor did I pay him to say that!)
    But I agree- the approach to child rearing is very different today than it was when I was growing up. Perhaps because people are waiting longer to start families and having fewer children mixed with guilt about both parents working and mixed with heavy doses of pop psychology about what we should and shouldn’t do to raise healthy children…
    Being that Latin America has always been more family-centric, I think it has always been more child-centric as well… but that could (and should) lead to an entire new group of posts!
    Your comment on the line between responsibility and repression is interesting as it certainly begs the question of what is “fair”…
    Glad you liked the basic concept of my guidelines–if just as a starting point for consideration and negotiation!

  22. Hehe……..I must make an indication.

    Student Protests, specially of the College/Universities students, are on some zones of the country as typical each year as the seasons. As an example, try to ask WHAT year hasn’t been done a protest for some reason on the area of Macul and Grecia Streets on the Comuna of Ñuñoa, an area with multiple University Campus around….included burning barricades, students throwing stones, and a Molotov or two to the cops, and the cops retaliating back with their classic “Guanaco” and “Huascar” Riot-controlling vehicles throwing high-pressure water with CS-type chemical mixed, alongside unhealthy dosages of Tear Gas RPG rounds, although those do a wonder to clean your nose.

    There are mentions of such protests on this area….since the 60’s…with some breaks due to things like a military coup and threat of being gunned on the spot. but otherwise……there has been several protests per year on the area, since 1980 and forward, EACH DAMN YEAR, without pause, and ain’t joking.

    Its an unofficial serious fact, that once the last days of March kick around here, soon it comes the dawn of the yearly “Protests Season” until November at least. Communists, Anarchists(Although to this height, many do this for the Lulz, or because they are on the mood to cause some havoc for shits and giggles)……those that live on this area, we have pretty much acclimated to the smell on some days, of burning tires, or a rather spicy smell on the air…and just shrug to the usual event when asked….

  23. these students think the government is their mommy, that it owes them a living. They do not realize that whatever the government gives, it takes from somone else. Or maybe they just don’t care. Show me a student majoring in medicine, dentistry, engineering, mathematics, teaching, pharmacy – ok, they deserve financial support. The art history, philosophy, anthropology majors and all the rest of them, get a job save up some money and pay your own way.

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