More than 100 Chilean university students protested today in front of the Constitutional Tribunal against the court's decision to allow universities to charge tuition and to denounce excessive police force against student protesters yesterday.
The spokesperson of the National Coordinator of Secondary Students (CONES), Amanda Opazo, presented an official complaint against riot police whose members beat to unconsciousness University of Chile student, Fernando Quintana as he and hundreds of others protested the tribunals Tuesday decision to allow universities to be for profit.
Radio Bio Bio Chile published a Twitter video today showing several riot police beating the young Quintana to unconsciousness then dragging him by one arm across a Santiago street. Students tried to help Quintana as he was surrounded by police. Reuters video of student protests shows well-protected police choking, holding, beating and using water cannons against peaceful student protesters.
The students were protesting the Constitutional Tribunal’s 6-4 decision to overturn the recently hard passed Higher Education Law that would have made Chilean university education free. The law had just been signed into effect in late January by former president Michelle Bachelet. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Chile has the fourth-most-expensive university system in the world.
Today the Chilean State University Consortium (CUECh) denounced the tribunal move to allow universities to remain for profit. In a communique the CUECH says: “Quality education is now a fundamental right in our society, implying that education is a non-profit activity. … By declaring unconstitutional article 63 (which declares that universities be non-profit) the tribunal … is permitting higher education institutions to be controlled by people who want to make a profit.
Higher education was free in the country until 1981, when Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship paved the way for the emergence of private universities with no constraints on tuition fees.
In a press conference Alfonso Mohor, President of the University of Chile student's federation said of the sudden education law reform: "As we see it, the ministry (of education) and the government have been complicit in one way or another, both because of the impact they have on people who are from their own political organisations.”
According to local media reports, 17 students were arrested in yesterday’s demonstrations.
Newly inaugurated President Sebastian Piñera isn’t just using riot police to crack down on students, but also on Mapuche Indigenous protesters in southern Chile. The president is using the recently reformed Anti-terrorism Law to use water cannons on Mapuche demonstrators demanding the return of their ancestral lands and the end to major hydroelectric dams.
The 11 changes to the law allow the government to use drones, undercover agents, GPS tracking, and phone tapping against those it suspects of "terrorism." The legislation also broadens the definition of “terrorist” to include individuals, not just associations.