Friday, August 26, 2011

Violence mars 2nd day of Chile's nationwide strike

By FEDERICO QUILODRAN - Associated Press | Aug.25, 2011

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Tens of thousands of Chileans marched peacefully
Thursday demanding profound changes in the country's heavily centralized
and privatized form of government, while smaller groups broke away to
fight with police. More than 450 people were arrested and dozens injured.

Union members, students, government workers and center-left opposition
parties took part in the final day of a nationwide two-day strike, which
included four separate protest marches in the capital and demonstrations
across Chile. In many areas, families grabbed spoons and spilled into the
streets to join in noisy pot-banging shows of support.

President Sebastian Pinera's ministers sought to minimize the impact.
Police estimated Santiago's crowds at just 50,000 and said only 14 percent
of government workers stayed off the job.

Union leaders claimed 600,000 people joined demonstrations nationwide.
Raul de la Puente, president of the government employees union, said 80
percent of his members joined the strike, at the cost of two days' pay.

Pinera called the strike unjustified because Chile's economy is growing
strong and providing more opportunities. He also said he remains open to
those seeking dialogue, although his administration has refused to discuss
some student and union demands, arguing the real work of reform must be
done in Congress.

What began three months ago as a series of isolated classroom boycotts by
high school and university students demanding education improvements has
grown into a mass movement calling for all manner of changes in Chile's
topdown form of government.

Protesters now want increases in education and health care spending,
pension and labor code reform, even a new constitution that would give
voters the chance to participate in referendums — a form of direct
democracy previously unthinkable in a country only two decades removed
from a 1973-90 military dictatorship.

"As long as there aren't responses from the executive to the demands, this
movement will continue," university student leader Camila Vallejo vowed.

Polls taken before the strike say the majority of Chileans side with the
protesters, although it's unclear how the violence will affect popular

Chile's much-praised economic model of fiscal austerity and private-sector
solutions has failed to deliver enough upward mobility to a new generation
whose members see how their country compares to the rest of the world,
said Bernardo Navarrete, a political analyst at the University of

"The promise that they have made us during the military regime and during
20 years of the (center-left) Concertation (government), and during the
era of Pinera, is that education was a way to climb up in society, and the
students noticed that this wasn't true," Navarrete said. "They know that
Chilean universities are the most expensive places to study, that
advancing in higher education depends more on the university you leave
than your own merits, that success isn't guaranteed."

Some of Pinera's ministers tried to reach out to people who feel they
can't afford the quality education that Chile's best private institutions

Economy Minister Pablo Longueira told a meeting of executives Thursday
about a father who told him that he could afford to send only one of his
two children to college. "If this was my reality, I would be marching as
well," Longueira said. "This is what we have to change in Chile."

Others in the ruling coalition took a harder line. The governor appointed
by Pinera for the Bio Bio region, Victor Lobos, blamed the protests on
unwed parents, saying 65 percent of Chilean children now are born outside

"Today Chile is a country without family. I warned this would bring social
conflicts to Chile," Lobos said. "A child that doesn't receive anything,
doesn't receive affection, the loving attention of a father and mother and
their protection, shows up in the streets with hate."

Associated Press writer Eva Vergara contributed to this report.

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