Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Riot, Protest or Parade?

Strikes and protests are common in Chile. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you'll have read about how there have been significant student strikes for education reform since 2011. I was told at the beginning of the semester that this was supposed to be a very active strike year for the university students. This because the students were not happy about Bachelet's election-they didn't trust her promises about educational reform, since she'd made others that weren't fulfilled in her first term. Luckily for me, as well as my students the first semester came and went with only a couple of  one-day strikes so students could march over in Valpo at the main campus of PUCV.
Something I was warned about by the US State Department at intervals via emails was when protest marches were planned in Santiago, and to stay away from them. Often when marches are held in the capitol, there would be other protests in support around the country, so the emails applied to where I lived as well.

In my last week in Chile, fishermen in Portales (where we would go for fresh fish), marched on Congress, which is in Valparaíso, not in Santiago. They were protesting a law from last year that set quotas on certain fish. Well, when the police moved in to break up the march, which was not sanctioned, it turned into a riot at the Portales metro station. Things were set on fire, kiosks were pushed over and used as barriers against water cannon, and the battle spilled over onto the metro tracks and into the station. Rocks were thrown, tear gas, the whole nine yards. The metro was closed between the stop outside of my apartment over to the port for two days, as things were cleaned up. When I took the metro out to the port on my last weekend, I saw no sign that anything had happened two days before.

But this is what I got to see that day instead. A sanctioned protest!
I heard a band, and saw a crowd of people in the square by the Iquique battle memorial and went to take a look. I'd seen lots of people doing dance performances in recent weeks, so that's what I thought it was at first. When I got there, I realized it was the beginning of a protest. I knew it was sanctioned, because there were a few police on motorcycles blocking traffic from the planned route.
 There was a real festive air about the proceedings:

 The marchers were protesting how funding is distributed to public colegios (secondary schools).
This group's sign says they want higher quality and more subsidies:
 No to substandard nationalized education:
 There were many schools and towns represented-this banner says San Antonio was present for the right of parents to choose.
Yes, I know, I was supposed to stay away from protests. But there were families and kids marching, so I wasn't worried.
I don't know if this march was replicated in other parts of the country that day, but it was very well organized in Valpo. Later I talked to some of my colleagues about why they thought there were so many protests and marches in Chile. They confirmed what I thought-that due to the repressions during the dictatorship, people now exercise their rights with exuberance. But things must be done properly: you need to follow procedures, not do anything in an impromptu way. Even so, sanctioned protests often do turn ugly, which is why it is a good idea to avoid after the march passed, I went on my way up on my last ascensor ride, where I saw a dog get off, then on again-it curled up, rode to the top and left with the rest of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment