Chile is still recovering from the effects of the military junta of 1973-1990 led by General Augusto Pinochet, and one can see this particularly in the case of the education system. Before the coup d’état, President Salvador Allende was carrying out a expansion of the education system through a system of government subsidies to include poorer Chileans – this was successful, as the number of children in secondary school went from 38% in 1971 to 51% in 1974 and a record number of 130,000 young people enrolled in universities during his time in power when they were opened up to peasants and workers. However, this was changed by the government of Augusto Pinochet, who chose to privatise the education system. Economist Manuel Riesco says that this led to a drop in levels of education, with only 25% of eligible children in primary or secondary education in 1990 – significantly, university education for the wealthiest of students reached above 70%.
The effects of this are still felt today, shown most in the recent student protests from 2006 onwards, the largest protests since the end of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. In the present day, there are not enough public universities to cater to the number of young people who wish to obtain a degree, but the number of private universities founded during the military regime means that those with money will not be as disadvantaged, thus turning the education system into a plutocracy. This is just one part of the feeling of gross inequality in Chilean society, with the level of income inequality between the richest and poorest members of society being one of the highest in the region. The protesters are demanding the scrapping of university tuition fees, more government funding of higher education and fairer admissions testing.
One high profile member of these protests is Camila Vallejo, the President of the University of Chile Student Federation (FECh) from 2010 to 2011. In 2013 she was elected to the Chilean Chamber of Deputies running on the Communist Party ticket with one of the largest margins of victory of the election – here one can see in this case that Chile is now beginning to fulfill the fears of left-wing politics that caused the coup in 1973 40 years later. This can be coupled with the students' demands to return to free tuition fees that was introduced by Allende; Chile is trying to return to the path that it was on before the coup.
Another leader of the protests, Giorgio Jackson, says this of his generation:
"Our story is about being born in the last years of the Pinochet dictatorship. We were raised in democracy, and that immediately changes your expectations about what democracy is.
"For people who are now in their 60s and 70s, the transition from dictatorship to democracy was a huge achievement in itself. They're happy with that.
"But our generation wants to push the limits and take things further forward. We don't feel comfortable with the status quo."
The current generation of students want to improve their democracy and move on from the dictatorship – this seems similar to Gerardo’s wish to not take vengeance on the perpetrators of the coup. However, the motivations seem to be different – whereas Gerardo does not wish to experience the pain of the coup all over again, the students have not been influenced in the same way as they did not personally experience the Pinochet regime.
However, the student protests are certainly confrontational, with the protests on the 4th of August 2011 being the most violent – police cordons and tear gas was used, as the protestors turned violent and started destroying property and setting fires. This is representative of the amount of resentment students have towards the government – however, unlike Paulina’s desire for revenge, these protests seem to be having some effect in forcing the Chilean government to respond to their demands.