Friday, June 02, 2006

Michelle Bachelet is off to a good start

Looks like Chile has indeed turned a decisive corner since the evil Augusto Pinochet was finally ousted from power. See for yourself:

Chilean riot police used water cannon and tear gas for a second day running to scatter secondary school students protesting over education reform.

Officials and student leaders have been talking but the government has rejected a demand to respond by Friday or face a national school strike.

Mass demonstrations on Wednesday saw more than 700 people arrested.

President Michelle Bachelet condemned the police's handling of the unrest and sacked the head of special forces.


Demonstrators are demanding educational reforms including a new curriculum, free bus fares and no exam fees.


The dispute is being seen as a big test for President Bachelet who took office in March.

Television footage and pictures splashed across newspapers of police beating young protesters provoked a barrage of criticism on Wednesday provoked a barrage of criticism from parents.

President Bachelet criticised the police for "unacceptable excesses" in their treatment of the demonstrators, most of whom are secondary school students, and sacked the head of special forces, Osvaldo Jara.

"We will not accept detestable acts like we saw (Tuesday)," she told a news conference.

She said her government would look at which of the students' demands were viable.

Protests began several weeks ago when students took over several schools in Santiago, and the strike has now spread nationwide with many pupils staying in school but refusing to attend lessons.

Tuesday's protests were the biggest student demonstrations in Chile in several decades.

It should come as no surprise that Michelle Bachelet would take the part of the students, and, even as president, denounce the police cracking their heads; she's been there too. It was during the coup of 1973 that she, herself a student (of medicine) at the time, was imprisoned and tortured, as were her parents. Her father, an air force general loyal to Salvador Allende, died of the torture. She and her mother survived, but went into exile when they were released.

Looks like she's back in earnest now, and doing what she vowed she would do: seeking truth and justice, rather than furthering the repression that scarred her own life.

Brava, Michelle, and keep up the good work.