Photo courtesy of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Authorities refuse to grant permission for march on Santiago’s main thoroughfare Alameda.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said during a news conference on Wednesday that Chile’s government will not grant permission for a student-led march to take place on central Santiago’s Alameda Avenue on Thursday, despite plans for two separate demonstrations.
“Our government will not be authorizing new student marches on Alameda,” said Hinzpeter to local media at the presidential La Moneda Palace. “All necessary measures will be taken.”
Property damage figured as one of his main explanations. Demonstrations in downtown Santiago have caused US$430,000 in damages to public property, according to Hinzpeter. He also said that private property damages surpass US$2 million.
Hinzpeter also cited business owner complaints and the threat of a “lost” school year to justify the prohibition.
The minister’s announcement reinforced previous statements by Santiago mayor Pablo Zalaquett, who has refused to allow the marches on Alameda. Calling to end another “nightmare,” Mayor Zalaquett proposed on Wednesday that students put together a “cultural event” in O’Higgins Park instead of marching.
Yet the prospect of shutting off Alameda was met with defiance from student leaders.
“If it is not authorized, this degree of repression and disturbances, which we hope will not happen, will be greater and incidents will become more serious,” stated Freddy Fuentes, spokesperson for the federation of high school students said on Tuesday. “If the march is not authorized for Alamada, it will most likely take place there anyway.”
Student leaders at the university level also vowed to march on.
“We are very open to establishing a dialogue with the government but they have shown us that they have no intention to do so, and want to impose their own will instead,” Camilo Ballesteros, head of the student federation at Universidad de Santiago, told La Tercera on Wednesday. “Nevertheless, we will march along Alameda.”
Two separate marches are currently scheduled for Thursday: a 10:30 a.m. demonstration of high school students beginning at Plaza Italia on Alameda and a 6:30 p.m. march led by CONFECH, a national confederation of university-level student unions, and the Colegio de Profesores or Teachers Union.
“The demonstration will go on,” said Jaime Gajardo, president of the Teachers Union to Radio Cooperativa on Wednesday. “We have to do it, it needs to be done, it is our duty.”
Earlier this week, Education Minister Felipe Bulnes released a document listing the 21 government proposals to improve education in Chile.
Some of the measures include transferring control of under-performing public schools from the autonomous municipality to the Chilean state.
The document also points to more funding for public universities, though it appears to place more priority on science and technology programs.
“I read the proposal,” said Universidad de Santiago’s Dr. Retamal during a conversation with the Santiago Times on Tuesday. “And I believe it doesn’t have anything new, anything radical or anything extraordinary.”
Student groups are expected to present government authorities with a formal response to the 21-point plan on Friday.
By Ivan Ebergenyi (firstname.lastname@example.org)