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Santiago’s Silent March

8 Sep

Students don black and light candles in honor of the victims of the Juan Fernández plane crash.

At 7 p.m., in days fading light, thousands of students gathered at the gates of the Universidad de Chile’s architecture faculty in downtown Santiago.

The majority dressed in black and light candles as night set in.

“We wanted to make this peaceful and beautiful in memory of the people who died in Juan Fernández,” explained Priscila Hudson Saravia, education student at the Universidad de Chile,  referring to the plane crash of Friday Sep. 2, in which 21 died.

“They were doing something important,” she said of the victims, which included government workers, entrepreneurs and journalists who were going to oversee and report on reconstruction on the island following last February’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami.

The march — called for earlier by the student federation of the Universidad de Chile (Fech) —  began at around 7:30 p.m., going down Santiago’s main thoroughfare, Alameda, and winding its way through the capital’s downtown.

There were some banners, occasional chants and even a few horns, but in general the mood was sombre, standing in stark in comparison to the carnival atmosphere that has characterized previous marches.

“We are also commemorating the death of the boy who was killed not long ago by a police officer,” said Priscilla.

The evening she was referring to is August 25, the second day of a nation wide two-day strike, in which 16-year-old high school student Manuel Gutiérrez was killed by a stray bullet fired by Carabineros police officer Miguel Millacura.

Riot police formed barriers at various points that kept the marches to a prescribed route, and although students pointed at them and chanted “They are the ones who kill without reason,” there were no physical confrontations.

Pictures of the March

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In contrast to some earlier marches, the evening passed without any major incidences of violence or vandalism.

“Much of the media only shows the worst images [from student protests]; of encapuchados (masked vandals), of people throwing rocks and causing damage,” said Priscila, “but tonight wasn’t like that.”

Chile’s students have been on strike for nearly four months now, demanding free university and quality education. Despite many peaceful and highly creative protests, violent minorities and confrontations with carabineros have drawn much of the media attention.

Representatives of international human rights organizations were on hand to keep an eye on proceeding. “We’re here to make sure that there is no police repression” said one, who claimed to have witnessed police violence against minors at previous marches.

People of all ages were present at the march, including an elderly couple who each wore a sign that read, “We grandparents support our grandchildren.” The couple received rousing cheers from the crowd.

The march ended at the main campus of the Universidad de Chile at around 8:30 p.m., when students placed hundreds of candles on the facade of the university, illuminating signs that outlined their demands, along with messages of condolence to the victims of Juan Fernández and images of Manuel Gutiérrez.

After half an hour the crowd began to disperse of its own volition, although after 10:00 p.m. — with most of the crowd gone — a police water cannon extinguished a large fire of cardboard boxes and plastic on the courtyard of the university.

Thursday morning also saw student marches in Puerto Montt, Valparaíso, Valdivia and Concepción, many of which were also ‘silent.’


Chilean student movement reignites despite winter rain

28 Jun

Up to 120,000 defy winter rains and violent confrontations in Santiago as Chile’s students regain momentum.  

Beneath sporadic rain that became a steady drizzle by days end, tens of thousands of high school and university students – accompanied by teachers, families and workers – took to the streets in Santiago today, in the second nation-wide march of the Chilean student movement in 2012.

Triumphant student leaders announced that 120,000 marched in the Chile’s capital alone, in what was dubbed la segunda marcha de los paraguas, (“the second march of the umbrellas”) in reference to the protest held under similar conditions last winter.

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For more photos see Sitio Quiltro’s Flickr account.

Despite temperatures as low as 7°C  (45 ºF), acts of vandalism – including the destruction of a bus and the defacement of a bank branch – and the reprisals of caribineros,  the march recaptured some of the energy of last years massive protests, with the numerous marching bands, dancing troupes, costumes and sheer numbers.

Beginning at Plaza Italia, the traditional meeting point for demonstrations and celebrations in Santiago, the march wound its way down the city’s main street, Alameda, and through the heart of downtown, before coming to an end on the corner of Blanco Encalada and Abate Molina, beside the Club Hípico racecourse.

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A stage was set up for folk singer Manuel García, who warmed up the crowd as it assembled, before student leaders from across the country took to their soapboxes for a series of fiery speeches.

Gabriel Boric, president of the Student Federation of the Universidad de Chile (Fech), the country’s most prestigious public university, kicked them off by celebrating the release of  Pedro Quezada, a student from Valparaíso, who was held without any conviction for over two months after being accused of throwing a molotov cocktail at carabineros.

The Fech president also hailed last nights protest in newly opened Costenera Center, in which a group of around 100 students, lead by Boric himself, entered the mega-mall and draped an enormous Chilean flag with the slogan “Free and Quality Public Education” from the buildings sixth floor.

Popular spokesperson of the  Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students (Aces), Eloisa Gonzalez, was midway through her speech when a plume of thick, black smoke suddenly began billowing just meters behind the stage. Put off momentarily, the young student leader soon resumed her speech following chants of Sigue! Sigue! from the crowd.

The noxious looking fumes continued streaming upward behind the stage, as indigenous student leader José Ancalao, who was brutally beaten by carabineros in January, denounced the government’s legislative agenda to control Chile’s outbreak of protests as “a declaration war.”

The scene on-stage became even more bizarre when traffic signs behind the stage began wildly swaying as encapuchados began the habitual post rally distraction destruction.  

Representatives of Chile’s powerful copper workers union, as well as the Coca Cola workers and teachers unions, addressed the crowd, as did the brother of Manuel Gutiérrez, the 16-year-old boy who was killed by a stray police bullet while walking near a protest in August last year.

Current Fech vice-president and international symbol of the Chilean student movement, Camila Vallejo, gave a salute to the students of Quebec, in a speech that was interrupted by a group of protesters chanting against political parties. Vallejo is a member of the Communist youth wing.

An interview with Gerson Gutiérrez and footage of the speeches, including those of Vallejo and Boric, will be embedded in this article in the coming days.

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