SANTIAGO, Chile – Tens of thousands of students protested in Chile on Thursday in the first march demanding education reform since President Michelle Bachelet took power on promises of deep changes.
The students marched through the streets of downtown Santiago heading to La Moneda presidential palace in a mostly peaceful protest that was marred at the end by hooded vandals who infiltrated the demonstrations to clash with police throwing rocks and petrol bombs. About 1,800 police officers guarded the march to avoid more violence. Student leaders estimated the crowd at 100,000 but police said it was closer to 40,000 people.
Bachelet was inaugurated for a new presidential term two months ago. She has vowed an education overhaul funded by a corporate tax hike in response to the millions of people who have taken part in protests since 2011 demanding deep changes to a system suffering from poor quality public schools, unprepared teachers and expensive private universities.
Students say the government is finally on the right course after years of staging massive marches demanding free, quality education. But they say it's still not enough and they want to be part of the reform.
"I think these projects are aimed in the right direction, but it's unfortunate that there is no process of participation and debate," said Naschla Aburman, a student leader at Universidad Catolica.
The student protests began under the 2006-10 presidency of Bachelet, who appeased some students by naming a commission including several of their leaders, and shuffling her Cabinet. But many others were left disappointed.
"What we've done so far is injecting more money to this same system that segregates," said Melissa Sepulveda, a student leader at Universidad de Chile. "This system generates one type of education for the rich and another for the poor."