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Cablegate: Student Protests Fail to Gain Public Support

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSG #2210/01 2922016
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 192016Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0220
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 2697
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 3352
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 3264
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1139
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ OCT 4857
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 4773
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 3400

UNCLAS SANTIAGO 002210

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI CI
SUBJECT: STUDENT PROTESTS FAIL TO GAIN PUBLIC SUPPORT

REF: A. SANTIAGO 1229

B. SANTIAGO 1204
C. SANTIAGO 2063

Summary
--------

1. The latest round of public student protests thus far have
failed to garner wide support among the Chilean population,
including among the leaders of the May and June student
strikes. Unlike the strikes in May and June, these protests
have been sporadic, disorganized and mostly non-violent.
Some 1,000 students took to the streets in Santiago on
October 18, but more than 85 percent of the students attended
classes. The firm yet measured response from the police has
been well received and reflects Chileans' general aversion to
public disorder. In one instance, the police forcibly
entered a school, dislodged the students who had taken over
the building, and suspended them for the remainder of the
academic year. Student leaders have initiated meetings with
politicians to press for prompt congressional approval of GOC
education proposals once they are introduced.

2. President Bachelet defended her administration's
short-term achievements and vowed to continue to improve
public education. The GOC increased government spending for
the 2007 budget by more than 10 percent, with education
constituting 15 percent of all public spending. Most
Chileans acknowledge the need for fundamental reforms in
public education, but have sided with the government in
urging students to end the protests. End summary.

Protests
--------

3. Several students from public high schools across the
nation took to the streets October 16-18 to protest the
quality of public education and to call on the government to
comply with the agreements reached following the last round
of student strikes in May and June (reftels A-B). Some
students "seized" schools and barricaded themselves in the
classrooms. In one instance that has received considerable
press coverage, the police forcibly entered a school and
dislodged the students who had taken over the building
earlier this week. Local authorities then suspended for the
remainder of the academic year the more than 40 students
involved in the incident. As of October 18, five public
schools remain "seized."

4. Unlike the June protests, these have not enjoyed
widespread support of the students, parents, or the general
public. Nor were they characterized by the same degree of
violence or public disorder. Furthermore, the students are
divided and not especially well organized. The end of the
school year, and the fear that close to 40 percent of the
students would have to repeat the year if they continue to
miss classes, has made many students reluctant to join the
strikes. Some organizers of the previous student strikes
have told the press they do not support these current
protests.

Students' Demands
-----------------

5. The students' main demands are:

--Implement the terms of the agreements reached in June;

--Improve the quality of public education;

--Strengthen the Presidential Advisory group (a group of
government officials, educators and students that was formed
in June to discuss ways to improve public education) so that
it has decision-making authority, and includes
representatives from the political parties;

--Amend the law governing public high schools to allow for
greater student participation in the decisions affecting
public schools;

--Revise the nation-wide student college entrance exam (PSU)
to eliminate the discrepancy in performance between public
and private school students.

6. Student leaders are meeting with Concertacion and
opposition Alianza political party to press for prompt
E
congressional approval of the GOC's education proposals once
they are introduced. They also plan to meet with the Senate
Education Committee later in the week.

Government's Reaction
---------------------

7. President Bachelet questioned the students' decision to
protest and defended the government's performance, citing the
following achievements:

--Appointment of new Ministers of Education and Interior
following the May/June strikes;

--Creation of a Presidential Advisory group;

--A ten percent increase in funding for education, with
spending on education constituting 15 percent of the overall
budget for 2007.

--A study on possible amendments to the education law (LOCE).

--Elimination of registration fees for the college entrance
exam for students from the lowest social-economic level.

--An increase by 200,000 in the number of "meal scholarships"
for the neediest children.

8. Education Minister Provoste, who came on board after the
June protests, also criticized the students and noted that
the GOC "had created space" for the students to voice their
concerns in a peaceful, democratic manner. Prior to the
October 18 demonstrations, Santiago city governor Victor
Barrueto said that the police would allow the protests to
take place, but would not allow "public disorder."

Public Reaction: We Side with the Government
--------------------------------------------

9. A review of the editorials written in mainstream press
media and comments by academics and politicians shows no
support among the general population for this latest round of
protests. While acknowledging that Chile's education system
requires fundamental reform, most believe the government has
made progress in addressing the main issues since June and
that the students -- especially toward the end of the
academic year and its all important exams -- should return to
class.

Comment
-------

10. The public's reaction thus far to this latest round of
student protests reflects a growing perception that President
Bachelet has taken positive steps since June to address the
many problems facing Chile's public education system.
Criticism is now being directed toward the student protesters
themselves. President Bachelet's strong public statements
reflect a confidence that was lacking in June. The firm yet
measured response from the police has also been well-received
and reflects Chileans' general aversion to public disorder.
It may also reflect the tougher law and order approach of new
Interior Minister Velasco. Unlike June, when Bachelet
departed for Washington and her meeting with President Bush
in the midst of the student protests, there were no calls for
Bachelet to delay her recent visit to Germany.
KELLY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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