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Bachelet faces crisis of confidence
Latinamerica Press
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Student protests and political corruption causes fall of president’s approval.

A day of student protest, held on May 14 nationwide, claimed the lives of two students identified as Exequiel Borbarán and Diego Guzmán in the port city of Valparaíso.

The person responsible for the deaths was another young man, Giuseppe Briganti, who stated that he shot the students because they were vandalizing his private property.

Students, teachers and education workers are demanding significant changes in educational reform projects promoted by the government of President Michelle Bachelet.

“We understand that this is not an isolated case, but is the result of a social model that overcomes the individual over the collective, even putting the private property value over the lives of people,” said in a statement the Federation Students of the University of Chile. “It is our commitment as students not to give up in the search of a reform that enshrine education as a right to service the majority of the country and not the interests of a few.”

Bachelet immediately spoke about the occurrences and described them as “irrational” and “unjustified”. But the pressure of the students worked. The president announced on May 21 the free higher education for poorer students.

In an address to the nation, Bachelet said that “we are moving in our commitment to achieve the 70 percent gratuity for the most vulnerable students in Chile at the end of my term [in 2018]; from 2016 we will ensure access to full and effective gratuity, without a grant or loan, to 60 percent of the most vulnerable students who attend technical training centers, accredited non-profit professional institutes, or the universities belonging to the Council of Rectors. This will benefit nearly 264,000 young people.”

The student protests are not new in Chile. In 2006, mass protests against the lack of free public education, organized by student groups, were a major challenge for Bachelet’s first government (2006-2010). These efforts resulted in some concessions and reforms at the time, including the approval of the General Education Law to replace the Teaching Law and the creation of a Superintendent of Education to monitor school quality.

However, in 2011, under Sebastián Piñera’s administration (2010-2014), the students again took the streets again across the country demanding quality public education and an end to the profit of the educational system. The government of Piñera did not carry out any educational reform and left office with a low approval rate.

Bachelet celebrated in March the first year of her second term and the achievements include the creation of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, a reform of the electoral system and the adoption of a tax reform. According to the nongovernmental foundation Ciudadano Inteligente (Smart Citizen), 16.4 percent of the campaign promises were fulfilled within this first year. However, the government still needs to address reforms in key sectors such as health, labor, disability and culture.

Damage control
The recent student protests are given in the context of the crisis of confidence the government is facing. In order to overcome the disapproval of her administration that has reached 56%, on May 11 Bachelet changed part of her cabinet.

According to Bachelet, “it is necessary to bring in new faces in order to deal with these tasks.”

The ruling New Majority coalition — which includes the Concertación Democrática parties (Christian Democratic, For Democracy, Radical Social Democratic and Socialist) that ruled Chile between 1990 and 2010, and the Communist Party, Citizen Left and Broad Social Movement —, has been accused of being involved in influence peddling. Sebastián Dávalos, Bachelet’s son, has been accused of using privileged information to obtain a US$10 million loan for a real estate project belonging to his wife.

“This is grave, because it weakens our democracy and creates abuses, privileges, and inequality,” warned Bachelet in a public conference.

Furthermore, in early March, information that proved the existence of tight relationships between right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party and well-known companies was leaked to the press, revealing tax evasion to finance illegally the party.

Due to these accusations, the government decided to quickly release a series of measures to combat corruption in politics, such as the removal of anonymous inputs. In addition, a reform was proposed to improve the regulation of political campaigns, which will help to supervise the relationship between private and public entities.

Bachelet also announced that in September will begin the process to draft a new constitution to replace the current passed in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-90).

Meanwhile, the demonstrations in all of Chile are ongoing and severely repressed. The extensive use of force in the recent protests have left many injured and detained.
—Latinamerica Press.

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