Chile's Student Protests

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: The Occupy Wall Street protests are entering their second month, but student protests in Chile are on month five and counting. Katie Manning is a reporter for the Chilean online newspaper Mi Voz. She's in Santiago.

Katie Manning: Hundreds and thousands of students have been on the streets. They've protesting, they've been sleeping in their schools and universities, they've been running laps around the presidential palace and they're very upset because half of the students in Chile pay for education. They're calling for the government basically to eliminate all private education. They want education to be 100% public. They want it to be much higher quality and they want it to be government funded.

Mullins: When you say half the students pay for education, what happens to the other half?

Manning: The other half go to public universities...or public high schools. The education system here, most of the better schools that are public are charter schools. And the charter schools, the students also pay to go to. They're prohibitively expensive. The students are often in debt for years after graduating from university. So the students that can't afford to go to the private schools, or the public charter schools, are basically left with a bad education according to them.

Mullins: So the students themselves who are protesting, you said they're running laps around the presidential palace. Are they boycotting classes, occupying campuses, what other forms are the protests taking?

Manning: Yeah, they're sleeping at their schools. They basically lost a year of school. So for about five months now all the schools that are in protest the students haven't been going to class. And as far as running laps around the palace, they've run for 1,800 consecutive hours around the presidential palace. They've had 1,800 seconds long kiss-a-thons where they've kissed each other for 1,800 seconds. And the reason why they're making 1,800 famous is because there were estimates saying that it would cost $1.8 billion in US dollars to give free education to the 25 traditional public universities for free for everyone.

Mullins: Okay, so how has the government been responding to this? I don't know to what extent the government cares if they're playing football, running laps or kissing for hours on end, but does it?

Manning: Well, the student protests have a really, really overwhelming majority of support in Chile. And President Sebastian Pinera's approval rating is extremely low, under 30%. So they're paying attention. They're trying to meet with the students, but they say that to pay for the education of everyone in Chile would be too expensive. So the students have responded and said you should rethink the copper mining industry and make it a government subsidized industry in order to pay for the education.

Mullins: This is an economic issue for these students, not just an educational issue, but what gives it the staying power to continue for five months now, especially if there haven't been tangible results?

Manning: The students are angry and they're fed up. I think, what's really surprising to me is that this is being lead by the kids. For them to be missing school for five months in protest is huge. And I don't see this stopping anytime soon.

Mullins: All right, Katie Manning, a reporter for the Chilean news website, Mi Voz. She joined us from Santiago, Chile. Thank you, Katie.

Manning: Thank you.