Since 2011, massive student protests in Chile have called for education reform. Chile's for-profit university system, created by dictator Augusto Pinochet, is notoriously expensive and stratified. Students have demanded that education be better and cheaper — free, ideally — and that costs be offset by new taxes.
Michelle Bachelet rose to the presidency in March 2014 promising to make those changes. (She previously served as president from 2006 to 2010). Protests reignited in May as students, eager to see those promises put into action, expressed their impatience.
One Chilean artist and activist decided he was done waiting for action. What he did next was inventive, courageous, and illegal.
Francisco Tapia, who goes by "Papas Fritas," was participating in a recent student takeover of the Universidad del Mar, a university that has closed but that continues to collect student loan debt, when he seized legal papers documenting $500 million worth of those loans. He burned them to ash and put the ashes on display at the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral in Santiago.
He posted a photo of his art work on Twitter:
— Fabián Navarrete (@Rusiohead) May 14, 2014
Papas Fritas confessed in a video posted to YouTube.
“It’s over,” he said. “It’s finished. You don’t have to pay another peso. We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor. I am just like you, living a shy life, and I live it day by day."
The Universidad del Mar will need to sue each student individually to recover the debts. Police confiscated the artwork on May 15. Papas Fritas could face up to five years in prison if prosecuted.
On May 20, President Bachelet will send an education reform package to Congress.