Chile: Pressure Builds with Upcoming Elections

Failing public schools, expensive private universities that don't offer affordable loans and an unresponsive government have all been fuel for hundreds of thousands of Chilean students taking part in massive protests.

The protests in this South American nation began in 2011, when Universidad de Chile students took to the streets to demand change from the tax system created in 1981 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. At that time most of Chile's educational system was privatized and government support reduced.

The students' central demand—for free and equitable access to higher education—has yet to be met. In the last few months of President Sebastian Piñera’s administration and with elections looming on November 19, 2013, the protests are growing more intense.

These demonstrations have resulted in arrests, fighting, and even deaths––violence between the police and students is a common occurrence.

At each student protest, hooded figures called Encapuchados appear grasping rocks in their hands, tearing down stop lights, street signs, destroying bus stops, and throwing Molotov cocktails. Police use tear gas, water cannons and nightsticks in response.

These small groups of violent protesters are acting out against the inequality and the neglect of the poor, a pandemic outside the education crisis itself. Meanwhile newspapers in Chile focus on this violence, providing the government with reasons to ignore the demands of the student leaders, professors and workers – those who believe that a quality, free education is a right for all Chileans.

The government of Chile is now facing the biggest cry for revolutionary change since the Pinochet era: education as a citizen's right.