SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of state university students, workers and professors demonstrated Tuesday around the country in protest against a bill affecting state universities that is currently going through Congress.
In Santiago the protest against the proposed law, which includes reforms to the educational system proposed by President Michelle Bachelet, went off in a mostly peaceful manner along the Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins, the Chilean capital’s main thoroughfare, though sometime near the end there were clashes between demonstrators and police.
“We are demonstrating here and now because a bill is being prepared that Michelle Bachelet is imposing through the Education Ministry,” the spokesman for the Chilean Students Confederation, Daniel Andrade, told EFE in a statement.
“The bill threatens our employees’ working conditions, it threatens a university’s autonomy and does nothing to strengthen and expand public education,” he said.
For that reason, the educational leader urged the rejection of the bill, which was to be voted on this Tuesday by the Education Commission of Congress, “so we can have more time and be able to come to an agreement with the Education Ministry on points of autonomy and democracy,” Andrade said.
The students, meanwhile, called for more university independence by “taking back budget decisions and the project of institutional development from the hands of outsiders.”
“We also want increased funding for state universities, so they can boost their student enrollment and so be able to grow over the next five years, something that is not happening now,” he said.
The demonstration stretched from the Plaza Baquedano for more than 2 kilometers (1 1/4 miles), where hooded groups clashed with police.
Before the march, other groups of demonstrators put up barricades and caused disturbances at different points around the city, all near university campuses.
The demonstrations also extended to a number of other cities including Valparaiso, Concepcion and Temuco.