A protest by Chilean students demanding free university education turned violent on Thursday, upping the pressure on President Michelle Bachelet. The police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protest, with 117 people arrested and 32 officers (plus an unknown number of students) injured.
Angry students carried banners that said “We are tired of waiting.” Bachelet previously said policies guaranteeing everyone a free education would show that the country was heading in the right direction. But facing an economic downturn, last year the government scaled down those reforms, leaving many students and leftists feeling betrayed.
Marcelo Correa, spokesman for the national students’ grouping CONES, promised more rallies. “They are growing and getting stronger. If they do not listen to us we will give it everything we have got,” he said. “We are going to stay on the streets. From today onwards, we expect that the protests will only intensify,” echoed Marta Matamala, head of the University of Santiago student union.
However, this uptick in violence is alarming. During similar protests on Saturday, a security guard choked to death in the smoke from petrol bombs at a protest near the national Congress in Valparaíso. The students are right that the current system is flawed, and their demand for free higher education is a worthy cause. But making that happen would be expensive, and couldn’t be implemented overnight. Other countries, like South Africa, are also struggling with student protests over the cost of education (see Blouin News’ recent coverage). But even amid heavy-handed police response, deliberate violence by students is never justified, and only harms their noble cause.