FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Teenagers vs. Billionaires

by JONATHAN FRANKLIN

Santiago, Chile.

“What day is it, Wednesday? Thursday?” asked Moises Paredes as his eyes drooped nearly shut.  Paredes, 18-years old, the national spokesman for a collective of Chilean high school students, is exhausted. On Wednesday Paredes helped organize a march of 100,000 Chilean students. Then he addressed a press conference to explain why the students had seized dozens of public high schools as part of their campaign for free university education.  The following morning Paredes and his classmates were roused and ousted at dawn as Chilean national police raided their school, which they had occupied.
“It is typical of this government, and especially Chadwick [Minister of the Interior] who think they can end this conflict with violence and instead are just adding more fuel to the fire,” said Paredes, “They are making the student movement more radical, leading to students seizing more schools and more universities.”

When the police arrived, Paredes hurriedly stuffed his change of clothes and a toothbrush into a white plastic shopping bag, which he now carries as he moves from one student organizing committee meeting to another. Along the way he continued to joust via Twitter with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Paredes described Pinera – who is ranked by Forbes as the world’s 589th richest person with a net worth of $2.5 billion — as an “intransigent businessman” who has sold Chile to the economic interests of a tiny elite. “It is abysmal that someone like him can have so much, so much money and others do not have a roof or even basic needs like public education,” said Paredes. “The state has forgotten their duties and let the market intervene across the board, privileging profits and you see this in healthcare, natural resources, education.”

Asked about his personal net worth, Paredes whips out his wallet, opens it to show no bills, no coins only a student bus pass. “If I don’t have enough for the bus fare I can ask the driver to let me ride for free.” For his phone calls, Paredes depends on fellow students to chip in. “One friend really helped me, he put a lot of money on my [cell] phone all at once,” said Paredes who described a gift of 5,000 Chilean pesos – a little over 6 GBP.

“I have not slept in 36 hours,” says Paredes, his face weary even for an 18-year-old. “And yes, I’m hungry,” he says, devouring a hamburger and fries while taking a flurry of phone calls from fellow student leaders, journalists and his mom.

“She tells me to be careful. At first she didn’t want me to be involved in the protests, she thought it would be too dangerous. You know she is from the other generation of the [Pinochet] dictatorship and they still have the fear that people who become politically involved will then be found [dead] under a bridge or disappeared,” said Paredes who expressed no fear of deadly reprisal from Chilean authorities.

As student leader for both his high school and the national coordinating committee known as Cones, Paredes is part of a new generation of Chilean political leadership. These are young men and woman who are still not old enough to order a beer or obtain a driver’s license, yet they are steering Chilean politics in a new direction. “I was never involved in politics until two years ago. No one from my family is politically active, these protests have been my training,” said Paredes referring to the Chilean student uprising that began in 2011 and which has ignited a profound nationwide debate over the role of public education in a democracy.

The students have consistently argued that education is a basic right, while the government led by President Pinera has defined education as “a consumer good” and the gulf between those two positions has changed little during the course of the now two year old protest movement.

While the student’s primary demand — free university education for all – has yet to be achieved, education reform has been catapulted to the top of the Chilean political agenda. Several university directors have been jailed for running illegal, for-profit institutions and Universidad del Mar, a private university that had more than 15,000 students was stripped of government accreditation and essentially shut down by government regulators.

As Chile goes to the polls on Sunday for presidential primary elections, public education is now a key issue that is addressed at every debate and at length by candidates across the political spectrum. Leading Presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet recently outlined a multi-year transition plan that would faze-in a system of higher taxes to pay for universal, free university education.

For Paredes, the education protests has completely changed his outlook on life. Before the student uprising, Paredes spent his free time taking singing classes, honing his tenor voice in school chorus and at public concerts. “Now with all the protests I have to dedicate my time to interviews,” said Paredes. “Now my voice is used to communicate other things.”

Jonathan Franklin writes for the Guardian, where this article originally appeared.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 03, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Obama’s Legacy
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Christopher Brauchli
Parallel Lives: Trump and Temer
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail