The latest student rally that gathered some 200,000 people on the eve of the Copa America, the South American football championship, has turned violent with Santiago police shooting tear gas and water cannons against masked stone-throwing protesters.
The mass demonstration organized by Teachers College Santiago, the National Coordinator of Secondary Students (Cones) and the Coordinated Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES) was the latest in a series of rallies that call for the right to protest and for further educational reform.
Carrying a huge golden trophy reading “The cup of free education,” activists flooded central Santiago and marched peacefully for several hours before the events turned ugly and clashes erupted.
Police, equipped with armored vehicles, used water cannons and tear gas as masked protesters threw stones and other projectiles at police lines. Reports indicate that dozens were arrested in the clashes, with many being taken away injured.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has reportedly approved new educational legislation, banning tuition fees and selective admission from state-subsidized schools. However, the reforms have not met the protesters’ demands, who have been demonstrating over the issue since 2011.
“What they are offering us today is just a half-way gratuity, only for some people, a gratuity that the only thing it does is to inject more money into a system that was created by the dictatorship. When will we have the real right to decide which kind of education we want?,” Valentina Saavedra, President of University of Chile Student Federation told RT’s video agency Ruptly.
Tensions have boiled over as protesters want greater free education and more public universities. They also want changes to a system that has largely been unchanged since the end of General Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian rule.
Organizers wanted to use the Copa America, which starts on Thursday to boost their campaign recognition and to rally support for their cause.
“Practically all Chile is talking about is the Copa America. But this event can’t be an excuse to forget about our demands,” student leader Javiera Reyes told local news outlets.