The World: Chilean riot police disperse student protest

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Chilean riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse violent protesters on the edge of an otherwise peaceful student demonstration in Santiago. Anchor Lisa Mullins talks to reporter Steven Bodzin about developments, and the reason for the protests.

Lisa Mullins: England is not the only place marred by riots this week. Chile has seen its share of young people clashing with police and looters smashing shop windows. The disturbances there took place in the margins of an otherwise peaceful student protest movement. Tens of thousands of Chilean students took to the streets of the capital, Santiago, as they have been doing for months now. The students are demanding an increase in government spending on education. They want all Chileans to have free and equal access to public schools and universities. Reporter Steven Bodzin is in Santiago. How has it happened, Steven, that these otherwise peaceful protests have deteriorated into violence?

Steven Bodzin: Well generally these protests attract a lot of people. You get, frequently, a hundred thousand people, so if a hundred people show up who are there to basically cause trouble that certainly gets a lot of attention, but I think that the huge majority of people that are there are there peacefully and in fact I’ve even seen people doing what they can to detain or to at least harass some of the bigger trouble makers.

Mullins: Well what exactly have you seen? I know you’ve been talking to people through the day today.

Bodzin: I was in Valparaiso which is a smaller city near Santiago and there was a march of about twenty or thirty thousand people. It went along with a lot of people chanting and singing. Eventually a few trouble makers were throwing rocks at police, tearing up cobblestones to throw rocks, and of course, the police respond with tear gas and water cannons and then it just kind of turns into street battles with people taking advantage of the chaos to occasionally loot stores as well. A few sporting goods stores there were looted and frequently here in Santiago cellphone shops ended up getting looted as well.

Mullins: Why is the amount the government is spending on education in Chile such a hot issue there?

Bodzin: Over the last thirty years Chile has gone over a big change where it used to be that university educations were free. Today, university educations can cost quite a bit, really the kind of money that somebody might spend in Europe or in the States, but people’s income here is much lower and really, the main issue here really isn’t really about education. It’s about social mobility, because right now people see education as one of their few paths to social mobility, but rather than being able to take advantage of that, they end up, if they try to get education they end up going deeper and deeper into debt, so there’s just a lot of frustration that a country that’s getting wealthier and wealthier hasn’t been able to help poor people move up the income ladder through education.

Mullins: So I wonder what the reaction then has been to the fact that these protests have decayed into violence. Has that lessened any kind of support for the protestors?

Bodzin: Well according to the opinion polls there’s still very very widespread support for the protestors. About seventy percent of the general public and support for the demands is actually higher, about eighty percent while support for the president and his government has dropped below thirty percent. I spoke today to professor Dante Contreras at the economics department of the University of Chile and he said that people are ready for change.

Dante Contreras: Society is collapsing in terms of expectation in comparison with reality. We have money, we have resources, so now people are expecting the resolve now.

Mullins: So Steven, is the government listening? Is the government showing any sign of giving in to the students’ demands?

Bodzin: Well the government has turned over a couple of responses, but those have been roundly rejected by the students, so at this point it’s a stalemate and we shall see where things go from here.

Mullins: Reporter Steven Bodzin on the violence that’s erupted as thousands of students are protesting in Chile. Thank you Steven.

Bodzin: Thank you.

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About Steven Bodzin

Steven Bodzin is a reporter. He blogged when he was a freelancer.

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