The truth about the protests in Santiago

Travel Tips — By Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith) on August 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Photo by bearshapedsphere on Flickr. Used with permission.

There is nothing to worry about if you’re a tourist in Chile right now re: educational protests.

If you’ve been in and around the news lately in Chile, you’ll notice that we’re in the middle of a series of protests having to do with education reform. Essentially, the public high schools and universities are in a student-generated freeze, which means they are not in classes. You’ll notice it as you pass by universities which are shuttered, high schools that are “en toma” (taken over), with chairs stacked up around the outside, music blaring, and kids asking for money on the street.

The crux of the protests is that the economic reality in Chile is very heavily striated, with the haves atop the system, with good access to education, and the have-nots with lesser quality, yet still very expensive schools. Education in Chile is disproportionately unaffordable in Chile, which means many students go heavily into debt with no way to pay it off, or simply don’t pursue their studies.

As a foreigner, visiting Chile, particularly Santiago, you would be remiss in not informing yourself a little about what is going on. In addition, though the protests pretty much always start as jovial, chanting, creative processions through town, your embassy may suggest that you neither witness nor participate in the protests, and common sense dictates that if things turn even remotely violent or confrontational, that you get out of the way.

In recent days, we have seen a paro nacional (national strike), which was put forth by the CUT (say “COOT”), an important labor organization in Chile, and which essentially stopped business all throughout downtown on the 24th and 25th of August. The march was peaceful from approximately 10:30 AM until 2:15 PM, when the police started launching teargas and water cannons at the students. This all took place between approximately Universidad de Chile and Los Heroes metro stations.

While the long-term reach of the protests is unclear, and how it will affect the face of education and change in Chile is still unknown, for now it has absolutely no effect on tourism whatsoever. With the exception of the need to stay out of the protests if they turn chaotic and stay out of reach of tear gas, rocks or other projectiles that may come your way should you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the protests will not affect your stay in Chile at all.

Your hotel or hostel staff can keep you apprised of any hotspots, and you can easily plan your trip around them. Though you may find the posters and graffiti scattered through the downtown make more interesting backdrops for your photos than the usual national monuments.

Tags: Chile, protests, Santiago, students