Reports indicate that twenty students from the Assembly of Secondary Education Students (ACES) protested in Santiago’s central Plaza Italia on October 9 against a bill proposed by President Sebastian Piñera. The bill, called “Safe Classroom” (Aula Segura), aims to grant authorities from secondary education institutes the right to expel students suspected of vandalism and unruly behavior. ACES’ representatives indicated that the proposed bill seeks to criminalize student protests in the country. Security forces detained some protesters who were blocking adjacent streets to add notoriety to their cause. On October 9 the Senate’s Constitutional Committee decreed the bill to be unconstitutional, albeit following a close vote. President Piñera subsequently suggested he would still pursue its approval.
Student activism in Chile is commonplace and recent years have witnessed large demonstrations organized by high-school and college students. During Piñera’s first presidential term in 2011, the country witnessed massive nationwide demonstrations, many of which devolved into violence. Student groups traditionally demand an overhaul of Chile’s education system to allow direct state intervention to build new universities and reduce tuition fees from private universities, which are perceived as grossly expensive by left-leaning groups. These grievances resurfaced in recent weeks following a series of vandalism incidents against various schools in Santiago, including a series of protests which featured scuffles between police and protesters. In this context, although the bill proposed by President Piñera remains to be passed, the project could potentially prompt wider opposition from high-school and college students’ groups, therefore resulting in protests significantly larger than the one recorded on October 9. This will most likely be the case if the bill is eventually adopted. Taking into account that Piñera is willing to introduce amendments and that his governing-coalition enjoys a majority in Congress, the bill is likely to pass. Precedent indicates that protests to oppose the bill are likely to transpire in central Santiago and turn violent.