SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Around 20 students protesting the Chilean government’s education policies were forcibly removed by guards from the presidential palace on Tuesday after they had entered disguised as tourists.
Wearing orange baseball caps and backpacks, the students walked in the front entrance of the Palacio de la Moneda in downtown Santiago, cameras in hand. Upon reaching the central patio, they unfurled a banner reading, “Take note: the offensive begins today.”
In dramatic scenes, guards tried to drag them outside. Many students resisted forcibly, clinging to columns as they battled.
According to student union Confech, the protest was a response to what it feels is the slow pace of education reforms by the centre-left government of President Michelle Bachelet.
“Today, we the students of Chile burst into La Moneda to notify the president, the government of Chile, that they failed,” Confech spokesman Gabriel Iturra said in a statement.
“The students of Chile can’t keep waiting for a partial reform that does not make university free for all and that does not end profit-making (in education).”
Bachelet, who began her second non-consecutive presidential term in 2014, campaigned on a slew of reforms that included shaking up Chile’s highly privatised education system and making university free of charge.
However, her efforts have stalled over the past year due to a recalcitrant Congress, far-reaching corruption scandals, and a sluggish economy.
Although some education reforms have been passed already, students complain others are taking too long and do not go far enough. They also feel as though they have not been sufficiently consulted.
Student street protests that often turn violent, a regular fixture during the last centre-right government of Sebastian Pinera, have increased in recent weeks. Protests in the port city of Valparaiso over the weekend, timed to coincide with Bachelet’s annual state of the nation address, left one private security guard dead.
Another protest march is slated for Thursday through central Santiago, this time called by a union of high school students.
Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Gram Slattery, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Alan Crosby