During the course of the year more than 600.000 school students and students have been involved in a protest movement. Lead by secondary school students, the “penguins” as they have become known for their school uniforms, the movement went on to occupy more than a hundred schools and reached out to university students and students in lower grades and included them in the democratic organisation of a protest to demand free and accessible education for everyone.
The movement started as a protest against the poor quality of secondary education, the lack of access for working class youth and the social inequality which the education system reproduces. The protest movement was organised in a most democratic manner. All decisions were taken in general assembly after a debate in the classes and the election of representatives to the general assembly. Representatives had to explain themselves to their comrades and were subject to recall at any time the local assembly chose to do so.
The students demanded better study material in their schools, free bus passes and free school meals but they also demanded that the law governing education, inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship, would be scrapped out of the constitution. Pinochet had written this law, which effectively promotes privatisation of the education, into the Chilean constitution in the last days of his dictatorship. Today everyone across the political spectrum agrees that the education system is failing but no-one, neither the government nor the right wing opposition is prepared to support the reforms the students are asking and guarantee quality and free education.
The authorities, in a bid to gain time, have established a “Presidential Advisory Council of Education” to study the problems. It still has to meet. The students are growing tired of these political games and in some places protests have been rekindled while the authorities are trying to manoeuvre to break the student movement by expelling student leaders from their schools or by buying them with personal and political favours.
One case of repression by the government is what is happening to Simón Sepúlveda, a student of the 4th grade of the Maipu School in Santiago, one of the spokespeople in the general students’ assembly for the capital district. He was suspended indefinitely from attending school on the 28th of August.
Another example are the tens of students that have been suspended and the professors that have been sacked at Arcis, a private run university, owned by the Chilean Communist Party and run by employers who used to be members of the MIR in the past. To take revenge for the earlier occupation of the university, the authorities suspended students for several semesters and sacked different professors, several of them of great prestige, including the winner of the last “Gabriel Salazar National History price”.
On the fifth of September the students of the Maipu School organised a demonstration to protest against the suspension of Simón Sepúlveda. In fact, all the students of the west of Santiago joined the demonstration to protest against the “Presidential Advisory Council of Education” and to show solidarity with Simón Sepúlveda. This demonstration was brutally suppressed with water cannons and teargas. The police attacked students.
Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI in Chile, is part of the solidarity campaign with these students. We are spreading information about the state repression, planning actions and asking people to write protest letters. More information in Spanish can be found on http://solidaridadestudiantes.blogspot.com
Model letter - Please distribute widely
Underneath you will find a model letter (which you can modify) to send to the Chilean authorities to demand an end to the repression of the student movement and to demand the reinstatement of the young student leader Simón Sepúlveda. At the end of the letter we include a number of addresses.
Thanks for your solidarity
We have been informed by the Committee for a Workers’ International, an organisation with a presence in more than 35 countries worldwide, that the young student leader Simón Sepúlveda, who is one of the spokespeople for the student general assembly in the East of Santiago, has been the victim of brutal repression aimed at denying him his fundamental democratic rights. He has been indefinitely suspended from his school “Liceo Polivalente José Ignacio Zenteno” in the Maipu district. This suspension is aimed at denying him the opportunity to speak on behalf of his fellow school students.
We have long standing links with the Chilean community in Europe and beyond, our brothers and sisters who have valiantly fought against the Pinochet dictatorship. We consider it a cause of honour and our most elementary duty as representatives of working class people that we follow events in Chile and will do our utmost to protect the rights of Chilean workers and youth today.
So it is with astonishment that we now find ourselves in a position to have to protest against the measures taken by the Bachelet government against the student movement. In our humble opinion these measures; the beating of students by the police, the tear gassing of demonstrations and the numerous random arrests, echo the practices of the Pinochet dictatorship.
With this protest letter we want to draw your attention to the case of Simón Sepúlveda who has been suspended from attending classes since the 28th of August. This is clearly a repressive measure aimed at isolating this young student leader.
The indefinite suspension is a threat hanging over the heads of all leaders of the student movement. It seeks to destroy their undeniable right to free speech and thought, their right to represent their fellow students and their right to continue their studies and future.
We are writing to you to demand an immediate end to the suspension of Simón and all other students and teachers who are victims of the repressive measures taken by the Bachelet government and the repressive state apparatus.
1) Chilean President
Mrs Michelle Bachelet
To send and email go to the webpage:
2) Ministry of education
Mrs. Yasna Provoste
3) Mayor of Maipu
Mr. Alberto Undurraga Vicuña
4) Mrs head of the Liceo Polivalente de José Ignacio Zenteno, Cecilia Barrenechea
Go the following page to send email:
Please send copies to: