Thursday, 25 August 2011

Contradictory victory

Today is day two of a two day national strike. Day one was eerily calm, except for some barricades early in the morning which made the commute from some outlying areas a bit slow. Downtown was quiet, and many people just took the day off, or went to work, and left, early.

As a result, the government declared a kind of contradictory victory. On the one hand they concluded that the unions were paralyzing chilean society, and on the other announced that the strike had been a failure as things pretty much progressed as normal.

Day two, however, has been more active, with a massive march organized by the labour unions. By early afternoon, the largely peaceful demonstrations had, for a change, turned more violent. The government will use the violence, for a change, to argue that the social movement is composed of radicals and thugs. The unions will claim that, against all prediction, still have a capacity to bring thousands out into the streets.

Meanwhile, no one is talking about education.

The Economist this week reports on the state of affairs in Chile. It's a good report, bringing out the irony of the situation -- Chileans better off than ever, and more irritable than ever. The last line -- "it's not clear what might happen next" -- may be a little overly dramatic. After all, at this point, it's not clear what will happen next in Egypt, in Libya, in Greece, in Spain, in the UK, or the US. As a result, I know exactly what will happen next: the price of gold will keep going up.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Breaking the illusion

Regular readers of this blog will know that, in general, I have been supportive of the creative ways in which the student movement in Chile has brought the world's attention to a system which suffers from serious problems, including inequality, high cost, and in many cases, low standards of quality.

Which is not to say I don't think they have made mistakes. Specifically, there have been errors in political calculation, and there is an increasing tendency towards populism and away from trying to resolve the problem of higher education in Chile. In this column, written with my colleague Juan Pablo Luna, we analyze some of these mistakes.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Our time has come

This video says a lot about what is going on in Chile. While the government has tried to portray the students as ideological, or manipulated by ideologies, or just as molotov-throwing criminals, here we see something else. It is, of course, somewhat romanticised, but it is not too far off, and portrays something far closer to what most Chileans see than to what the government is suggesting.

So on the one side you have two kids simply saying 'our time has come', and on the other, a group defending its economic interests. Unless something changes, it will be very difficult to reach agreement.

The other thing that is noteworthy: the video is featured on El Mercurio's website.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Looking in the rear view mirror

As I discuss here, it feels as if much of the current discussion on education currently going on in Chile is being carried out as if we were in a car going at 120 km/h, but looking only in the rear view mirror. Many of my colleagues in public education seem to think that the solutions to many of the problems lie in returning to some ideal past. Except that past never existed.

Today there are far more students -- probably close to ten times more -- in university than there were forty or fifty years ago, and they come from a much wider socioeconomic background. There are far more PhDs teaching in those universities. The demands on those teachers, in terms of research and publishing, are far greater. There is far more contact with the outside world, far more publishing in indexed journals, and far more original research being carried out.

What has been lost, by design, is the conviction that education is a right and that this right should be guaranteed by the state -- in other words, that there should be a public education system. The student movement is about that, but it often gets mixed up with this misplaced nostalgia, especially when the teachers' union gets involved. It would be useful if they did not mix the two sentiments.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Something happened on August 4th

Cacerolazo 4 agosto 2011 from Jonathan Bravo on Vimeo.

The Chilean Way


N° 87/11


Washington, D.C., August 6, 2011 - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Rapporteurs on the Rights of Children and Freedom of Expression express their concern regarding the serious acts of violence that took place during the student protests that occurred in Chile on Thursday, August 4th, which allegedly included the detention and disproportionate use of force against hundreds of protesters, among them high school and university students.

According to the information available, in order to break up a series of unauthorized protests, organized in response to educational policies, law enforcement used personnel on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles, who allegedly beat the protesters and used teargas and fire hoses. State spokespersons confirmed that during the dissolution of the protests hundreds of people were detained and almost a hundred police officers were injured. According to available information, a high number of high school students, including minors, and university studentes, were among those apprehended.

The Commission notes that the rights to association, assembly, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights broadly guaranteed by the American Convention on Human Rights. Given the importance of these rights for the consolidation of democratic societies, the Commission has maintained that any restriction of these rights should be justified by an imperative social interest. In this sense, the Commission observes that the States may impose reasonable limitations on protests with the objective of ensuring that they are peacefully carried out, as well as to disperse those protests that turn violent, so long as such limits are governed by the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. As the actions of state agents must not discourage the rights to assembly, association and free expression, dispersion of a protest may only be justified under the duty to protect people. The security operations that are implemented in these contexts should contemplate those measures which are the safest and the least restrictive of the fundamental rights involved. The use of force in public demonstrations should be exceptional and strictly necessary in accordance with internationally recognized principles.

In all cases, the authorities should take the superior interests of children into special consideration when carrying out security operations and adopt all necessary measures to assure that children are protected against violence of any kind.

The Commission reiterates its concern regarding the grave events that occurred on August 4th, and urges the Chilean State to adopt the necessary measures to ensure full respect for the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, imposing only those restrictions as may be strictly necessary and proportional, and taking into account the State’s special obligation to guarantee the rights of children.

The IACHR has requested information from the State on these events, based on Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Black Thursday

A couple of days ago I said I would save my comments for the release of the CEP poll. Here they are. And here is the poll. In sum, the Piñera government continues its freefall and is now the least popular government since the CEP began polling. Its support is below what is thought to be the right's base of about 35%, and is almost half of what Pinochet got in 1988. The Concertación doesn't do much better, and the basic message is, 'throw the bums out!'

But the poll was released on the same day as university and high school students organized another protest. These protests have become a weekly occurrence in Santiago and across the country, as I have highlighted in previous posts. But This one was different, as the government did not 'authorize' the march, converting the entire discussion into a battle of wills between the student movement and the authorities. Rather than a demonstration over education, it became about the right to demonstrate. The Constitution, by the way, guarantees the right to peaceful, unarmed, demonstrations without prior permission (Chapter III, Art. 19).

Having unconstitutionally not granted permission, the government called out the troops -- not the army, but the policy, which in Chile is a branch of the Armed Forces -- and stations men in riot gear throughout the downtown area. By lunch on Thursday, the air already smelled of tear gas, and as I left a restaurant with colleagues, we saw a group of kids -- high school aged, not university students -- running away from five or six armed vehicles and water cannon.

Things only went downhill from there. By Thursday night, there were barricades across the city, and some 800 people arrested. The government managed to reignite what was a faltering student movement into a broader discussion on the state of politics in Chile, what kind of government this really is, and whether the country is becoming ungovernable. Nice.

Driving to work on Friday, things were calm, but the feeling downtown was a bit like the Monday after the 2010 earthquake. Workers were clearing the streets, removing large stones which the demonstrators had left, broken glass, barricades. The banks had been particularly targeted for abuse, and a La Polar department store had been burned.

Meanwhile, and quite predictably, the students refused the government's offer, and continue with the strike. I will have more to say on that in a column to be published this week.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Bad press and worse numbers

I thought I would not write about the latest Adimark poll, partly because it really is getting a bit boring to post every month about the government's awful poll numbers, and in part because the CEP poll is due tomorrow and I thought I would cover both.

But then Patricio Navia alerted us to this report in The Economist about the Piñera government's old boys' network, and it seems the two are not entirely unrelated. The government -- the entire political class, in fact -- is seen as unresponsive, elitist and out of touch. It is not difficult to see why.

When the CEP numbers come out, I will write a bit more about how damaging this all is, becuase there is no obvious receptacle for the massive discontent. Is Chile turning into a breeding ground for some populist candidate? Some seem to think so. I am not so sure.