SANTIAGO – Police arrested 139 people on Thursday as they forcibly evicted students occupying several high schools to demand improvements to Chile’s underfunded public education system, authorities said.
The evictions at Dario Salas, Miguel de Cervantes and Confederacion Suiza high schools were carried out on the order of Santiago Mayor Pablo Zalaquett.
A fourth school included in the mayor’s order, Barros Borgoño, remained under student occupation at midday.
Riot police backed by water cannon burst into the Salas and De Cervantes schools a little after 5:00 a.m., arresting 41 students at the first school and 38 at the second.
The operation at Confederacion Suiza brought the arrest total to 139, including seven adults, police Col. Victor Tapia told reporters.
The minors will be released to their parents once police confirm their identities, the colonel said.
While the police were clearing protesters from Salas, De Cervantes and Confederacion Suiza, students occupied three other schools in Greater Santiago.
Following the police raids, organizations representing high school students announced plans for a “wake for education,” to be held Friday night in the capital’s Plaza de Armas square.
Chilean students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times in 2011 to denounce a highly stratified education system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.
The protests have continued this year and nationwide marches are scheduled for Aug. 23 and Aug. 28.
Chile’s public schools and universities were neglected by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who embraced doctrinaire free market policies.
Private schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition.
The students want public primary and secondary schools to be administered centrally, not at the level of individual municipalities, as is currently the case, as well as the elimination of school fees.
The movement also demands an end to for-profit universities and a reduction in the high cost of college, which forces many students to take on large debt.
President Sebastian Piñera, a right-wing billionaire, has taken some steps to make college more affordable for low-income students and is now asking Congress to pass a tax reform bill that would generate as much as $1 billion in additional education funding.
Critics dismiss that figure as woefully inadequate. EFE