Tag Archive | "Chile"

Chile: Teachers Strike against Education Reform Bill


'Teachers and students united in the struggle' (photo courtesy of Colegio de Profesores)

‘Students and teachers united in the struggle’ (photo courtesy of Colegio de Profesores)

This morning, thousands of Chilean teachers began an indefinite strike in protest of the government’s proposed education reform law.

The bill, called ‘Carrera Docente’, introduces a new pay scale system for teachers, which would include periodical tests as a prerequisite for climbing the pay scale ladder. It also details new grounds for dismissal for teachers who do not meet the academic requirements, and an increase in “non-teaching” hours for activities such as meetings, planning, and marking.

“We dialogued for more than three months, and presented our proposals, but little of that was reflected in the bill,” objected union leader Jaime Gajardo.

Responding to the strike, Economy Minister, Nicolás Eyzaguirre, said he lamented the decision, arguing that there had been a genuine dialogue with the teachers, and that they had been aware of the details of the law project. “I would call for continued talking. We believe that Carrera Docente is a tremendous leap forward for teachers,” the minister assured.

Conversely, in a letter to President Michelle Bachelet, the union criticised the “informality with which the Ministry of Education handled the discussions”, and the consequent mistrust and discomfort it had caused among their representatives.

The teachers also accused the project of being based in a fundamental mistrust in educators and stripping the training institutions of their responsibility, saying that teacher training institutions “have made education a cheap degree to implement in order to achieve greater economic benefits.” For the educators, the certificates and the tests for the pay hikes shift the responsibility from the training institutions to the teachers themselves. In addition, the union stated that the project “sustains the market-based education model”.

In Chile, municipalities are in charge of the public schools. The Chilean Association of Municipalities (ACHM) expressed its discontent with the strike, and called for the ministry and the union to continue negotiations. ACHM communicated that even though the teachers have promised to make up for any missed classes, “there is always a loss of hours that affects the performance and continuity of our students.”

The teachers’ union similarly called for the Education Ministry to establish another round table of dialogue. In the meanwhile, there will be marches in Santiago today and on Wednesday 3rd June, when the teachers will be joined by a column of the students’ union, Confech, which has expressed its solidarity with the teachers. On Friday the teachers will hold a national assembly of their delegates to decide on the continuation of the strike and to draft another letter to the president.

Education is a salient political issue in Chile. The student movements have been mobilizing since 2011demanding that the government fulfils its promises of free university education and ending private profit in education. The protests often result in violent confrontations between the police and the demonstrators. Reforming the sector is one of the major promises for President Bachelet’s second term in office. Carrera Docente, which would be implemented in 2016, is the government’s attempt to deliver the reform.

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David Trumbull: A Yankee Reformer in Chile


Upon announcing my upcoming trip to Chile to my mother, she had offhandedly mentioned that my great-great-grandmother and namesake, Anita Trumbull, had lived in Chile as a child. “I think her father was a pastor or something.”

It turns out that he was a little more than that. Due to his contributions to the country, the Chilean national congress had held a moment of silence when Reverend David Trumbull died. “They bestowed Chilean citizenship upon him out of thanks,” says Ricardo Vasquéz, director of the David Trumbull School in Valparaíso.

While in the city, I visited the sites of his missionary work including the school and church that he founded at the end of the 19th century. I reached out to those living in Valparaíso who have been touched by Trumbull’s legacy to better comprehend the magnitude of this man’s contributions to Chile’s past and present.

The Man

Portrait of David Trumbull in Valparaíso, Chile (Photo: Victor Polanco; Edited by: Katie McCutcheon)

Portrait of Rev. David Trumbull (Photo: Victor Polanco)

The family’s name was written in American history long before Trumbull brought his family to Valparaíso.

John Trumbull (1756-1843), David Trumbull’s great-uncle, was described as “the finest American history painter of the late Georgian era, excepting Benjamin West.” He is best known for his Declaration of Independence painting, which hangs in the United States Capital Rotunda and adorns the backside of the two dollar bill. Other members of the family include painter John’s father, Jonathan Trumbull, who served as Governor of Connecticut during the American Revolution, and was a friend of and advisor to George Washington during the war.

The family’s South American story began when David Trumbull finished his studies at Yale University and the Princeton Theological Seminary and aged 26 travelled to Valparaiso on the part of the American and Foreign Evangelical Union.

“If you look at it from another point of view, when you think about 1845, for them, it was as if one of our missionaries were to go to Africa,” Vazquéz laughs. “Going to another place in which there’s a different language—so it was a challenge, he faced a huge challenge.

“He was contracted by the foreign mission of the Presbyterian Church of New York. And he took on the missionary spirit.” So much so that on 2nd August 1850, after spending five years working in Chile, Trumbull returned to New Jersey to bring his new wife, Jane Wales Fitch, with him to form their home in Valparaíso.

He organised the Union Church in 1847, although the physical church building was not finished until 1871, as before 1855 chapels for non-Catholic services could only be constructed “if the construction was behind a tall wall and without towers or bells,” according to Trumbull’s magazine The Record.

It wasn’t until 1865 that those not adhering to the national religion were able to “practise what religion they may within the confines of privately-owned buildings”. This allowed non-Catholic foreigners to “maintain private schools for the teaching of their own children in the doctrine of their religions.” Until that year, article 5 of the constitution had dictated: “The religion of the Republic of Chile is the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion, to the exclusion of public exercise by any other.”

Later, Trumbull founded the Colegio David Trumbull in 1869. The school’s main objective was to provide primary education to children of Chilean Protestants “who object religious errors taught in the public schools of the city”.

Trumbull descendant Annie Bacher tours school he founded in Valparaíso (Photo: Victor Polanco; Edited by: Katie McCutcheon)

David Trumbull  Presbyterian School  in Valparaíso (Photo: Victor Polanco)

Apart from the church and school that bear his name, perhaps the greatest part of Trumbull’s work in Valparaíso was his influence on laws regulating marriage and education of Chile.

“Thanks to his contribution, secular laws in Chile were brought in – the civil register and the civil matrimony were created,” explains Vasquéz. The push for civil laws were in large part due to the influx of foreigners from the United States and Europe in Chile in those years,

In 1877, Trumbull wrote a four-chapter defence of mixed marriages, which was published in the newspaper “La Voz de Chile.”

As an example of the way in which the prohibition of mixed marriages punished Chilean women, Trumbull described the story of a young man from the United States who had a child with a young Chilean woman, and when the man inevitably returned to his country, he “didn’t hesitate in abandoning the mother and child.” Although it can’t be known whether the man would have stayed with the woman had the law permitted it, but Trumbull asserts, “the law left them no other choice than abandonment, or to continue illicit and immoral relations.” By permitting mixed marriages, these situations of illicit relations and abandonment could be avoided.

Trumbull questioned if it was possible “to initiate a legislation different than that which reigns, without invading the sacred limits of the church”.

Trumbull Church interior in Valparaíso, Chile (Photo: Victor Polanco)

Trumbull Church interior (Photo: Victor Polanco)

Shortly before the passing of the bill allowing civil marriage, in 1883 Trumbull referred to those who were forced to choose between their religious beliefs and civil rights in a lecture for the Young Men’s Christian Association. He said that Protestants could only enjoy the experience of wedding and the formation of families “in the sacrifice of personal convictions and in the avowal of repugnant opinions”.

The pamphlet with the lecture’s transcript, which remains in the Rare Book Room of the US Library of Congress, quotes Trumbull saying, “this has led to untold measures of shame, sorrow, and pain.”

Finally, on 16th January 1884, Chile’s congress passed the Law of Civil Marriage, and the law creating the Civil Register became part of the constitution. “This means that the church lost the traditional authority to legally establish the family,” writes Irven Paul, author of ‘A Yankee Reformer in Chile, Life and Work of David Trumbull’.

“This law rescinded the authority of the Church to register births, marriages, and deaths of all inhabitants of the nation.” According to Paul, Senator Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna is said to have commented that the passing of the law “was a declaration of the second independence of the nation”.

Trumbull’s commitment to the success of this law was clear in his reaction.

According to Paul, Trumbull had promised, “if these laws were approved by Congress, he would become a Chilean citizen.” This was doubly impactful, given the fact that only three generations earlier, his great-grandfather had played a central role in the American Revolution alongside George Washington. Despite being “a loyal United States citizen until his last drop of blood,” Trumbull sacrificed his US citizenship to give himself over to the country to which he devoted much of his life and work.

Trumbull died in Valparaíso on 1st February 1889. The city’s newspaper, El Heraldo reported: “It was a complete revolution that which he forged in our country; he himself was a proper revolutionary, and even before his life ended he couldn’t walk through our streets without being greeted by everyone with shows of respect, love, and appreciation by all for being a good man, in all sense of the word.”

After Reverend Trumbull

The Trumbull family remains sprinkled throughout the United States and Chile. Though I was unable to determine the whereabouts of all of nine of the Trumbull children, I followed the journey of his eighth daughter – my great-great grandmother – Anita, from Chile to New Jersey through the diary she wrote almost every day.

Trumbull descendant Annie Bacher in Valparaíso, Chile (Photo: Victor Polanco; Edited by: Katie McCutcheon)

Trumbull descendants Annie Bacher and Pauline Reed in Valparaíso, Chile (Photo: Victor Polanco)

At the age of 26, the same age at which her father had set off for his mission in Chile, she constantly questioned her privilege, whilst highly valuing her parents’ work in Valparaíso. “In Father’s memory I would like to do some good work, worthy of a child of his and mother’s,” she wrote in her diary. “My life seems so selfish – so lacking in strong and lasting influences. I ought to strive to help those about me more than I do – not seek admiration, but means of helping others.”

An anecdote from Paul’s book brings light to the meaning David Trumbull brought to people’s lives. He tells a story from Anita and her sister Julia’s vacation to Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in 1886: “They were surprised to notice the name of their native city painted on the door of a cottage. With trepidation they inquired of the owner—a retired sailor, why he painted the word ‘Valparaíso’ on his door?”

The story goes that by saving him from black smallpox and bringing him back to life, Trumbull and his wife changed the whole course of his life. He explained to the youngest Trumbull sisters: “That town is just like it sounds—a Valley of Paradise.”

The Legacy

The tomb remembering Trumbull’s death “raised by his friends in this community and by citizens of his adopted country” remains in the Dissidents Cemetery of Valparaíso, which stands in front of the imposing Catholic Cemetery No. 1. The tomb reads: “This country has a gifted and faithful minister and friend. He was honoured and loved by foreign residents on this coast. In his public life he was the counsellor and statesman, the supporter of the poor and the consoler of the afflicted memory of his permanent services, fidelity, charity, and sympathy.”

An article in the New York Times from Trumbull’s lifetime remembers him as “The Rev. David Trumbull, who is to this country something of what Luther was to Germany,” comparing Trumbull to the German priest credited with starting the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The article noted his humanity, commenting that he “is a good controversialist, and is as bold as he is talented”.

His legacy remains alive in Valparaíso, where the school and church bearing his name continue to flourish.

Original exterior of Trumbull Church (Photo: Victor Polanco; Edited by: Katie McCutcheon)

Original exterior of Trumbull Church (Photo: Victor Polanco)

The original school has been renamed the David Trumbull Presbyterian School, and still stands up high in the hills of Valparaíso today. It “is maintained with energy and enthusiasm, carrying the name of its founders and the oldest of all missionaries who arrived to these lands,” according to Vasquéz.

The original Union Church still stands today in Valparaíso’s centre, despite four significant earthquakes since its construction. The organisation of the Union Church moved to neighbouring Viña del Mar, and the Presbyterian Church of Chile now uses the original building, but the original wooden pews and New England-style floors are reminiscent.

Materials documenting the family legacy remain scattered across the United States and Chile. Trumbull’s journals, meeting minutes, and attendance records rest on shelves in the pastor’s office in the Union Church in neighbouring Viña del Mar, where the church moved in the early 20th century. The ‘David and Jane Wales Trumbull Manuscript Collection’ is contained in 12 boxes in the Princeton Theological Seminary Library, and remains of the family’s library wait in moving boxes in Trumbull’s great-great granddaughter Pauline Reed’s house in Santiago.

Perhaps the most telling signs of Trumbull’s legacy living on in Valparaíso today were the warm, familiar hugs, the broad smiles, and the looks of wonder and amazement I received when I was introduced to members of the church and school as his great-great-great granddaughter. He may be long gone, but Trumbull is far from forgotten in this faraway city he came to call home. `

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Chile: President Announces Cabinet Shuffle


In the midst of a popularity crisis, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced today nine changes in her cabinet.

Five ministers will be replaced by people external to the cabinet, while four were already part of her administration but were reassigned to new ministries.

The main change is the removal of Rodrigo Peñailillo from the Interior Ministry, who will be replaced by Christian Democrat Jorge Burgos. Peñailillo, a close collaborator and possible successor of Bachelet, was recently criticised for having worked with a company being investigated for its contributions to the political campaign.

The Economy Minister was also replaced, in this case by Rodrigo Valdés, an economist and former president of the State Bank. Other changes include Social Development  (where the former minister was replaced by her deputy, communist Marcos Barraza), Culture, Labour, Justice, and Defence. The former ambassador to Argentina, Marcelo Díaz, was appointed Secretary General of the Government.

President Bachelet had requested all 23 cabinet ministers hand in their resignation last week, as a way to renew her administration in the face of low popularity ratings and corruption scandals involving her son and several politicians and businessmen. The latest polls show Bachelet’s approval rating at an all-time low of 31%, a massive drop from the 84% with which she finished her first term in 2010.

The new ministers were sworn in this morning at the presidential palace of La Moneda.

 

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Chile: Bachelet Announces Anti-Corruption Measures


President Michelle Bachelet announces new anti-corruption measures (Photo courtesy of Presidencia de Chile)

President Michelle Bachelet announces new anti-corruption measures (Photo courtesy of Presidencia de Chile)

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has announced a set of new anti-corruption measures, in response to a series of scandals that has rocked the country’s political system.

Speaking to the public via a national tv broadcast, Bachelet said she had prepared “ample and integral reforms to eradicate bad practice in politics, business, and the relationship between both.”

Anti-Corruption Reform

The measures include changes to party financing, with the elimination of anonymous or secret funding from individuals and the prohibition of donations from private companies.

The proposal also seeks tighter regulations for campaign funding and electoral propaganda, while elected politicians that violate the “public’s confidence [in them]” will lose their seats.

Bachelet also targeted the relationship between politics and business, saying that the State “isn’t for business” and adding that it must regulate the “rotating door” between private companies and the public sector.

According to the proposed bill, there will be more restrictions on who can run for public office and on offering contracts to relatives. Anyone in public office will be prevented from also being part of a company that conducts business with the state.

To accompany the new regulations, Bachelet said that all schools, universities, and educational centres must include a “solid and explicit” programme to teach civic responsibility.

The president said that the full details of the reform would be presented next week. After that, the administrative measures must be approved within 15 days, while new laws must be debated in Congress within 45 days.

“This will be one of the reforms that marks the legacy of my government and I will drive it forward personally, with all of my energy and without any fear,” she said.

Context

Tuesday’s announcement came as Bachelet continues to deal with three major corruption scandals that have hit both her administration and opposition parties.

One of these – known as the ‘Caval’ case – involves Bachelet’s son and daughter-in-law, who are accused of using privileged information and influence to complete the purchase and sale of 44 hectares of land for a large profit.

The others concern two private companies – Penta and Soquimich – and allegations of tax fraud illegal campaign financing that affect parties across the political spectrum.

Facing plummeting approval ratings, Bachelet also announced this week that the process to rewrite the country’s constitution would begin in September with public debates, consultations, and dialogue.

Reforming the constitution, which was approved in 1980 under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, was one of Bachelet major electoral pledges for this term.

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Chile: Boy Discovers ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ Dinosaur of Unknown Lineage


An artist's depiction of Chilesaurus Diegosuarezi

An artist’s depiction of Chilesaurus Diegosuarezi

Scientists have called a dinosaur discovered by a seven-year-old in Southern Chile an ‘evolutionary jigsaw puzzle’ belonging to a previously unknown lineage.

Details of the Chilesaurus, which lived nearly 150m years ago, were described yesterday in an article in Nature magazine. Experts said that the dinosaur was part of the theropod group, which includes the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor, but that it incorporated features of other groups.

For example, the Chilesaurus had a skull and teeth with characteristics similar to long-necked sauropod dinosaurs, while its pelvis resembled that of the bird-like ornithischian dinosaurs. It was also a herbivore, a characteristic not unique among theropods but not typically as early as the Jurassic period.

Study co-author Fernando Novas, a paleontologist at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires, said the Chilesaurus represented an evolutionary “jigsaw puzzle.”

According to the study, different parts of the Chilesaurus’ body adapted to diet and habits of different, unrelated groups of dinosaurs, leading over time to an “extreme case of mosaic evolution.”

Martín Ezcurra, an Argentine researcher at the University of Birmingham who participated in the study explained that: “In this process, a region or regions of an organism resemble others of unrelated species because of a similar mode of life and evolutionary pressures. Chilesaurus provides a good example of how evolution works in deep time and it is one of the most interesting cases of convergent evolution documented in the history of life.”

The dinosaur’s full name was confirmed as Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, named after the boy (Diego Suárez) who found the first fossils in 2004 while hiking with his parents in the Aysén region of Chile.

Since the initial discovery, bones from more than a dozen specimens, including four complete skeletons, have been unearthed in Chilean Patagonia.

Last year, fossils belonging to the largest dinosaur ever recorded were discovered in Argentine Patagonia.

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Chile: Thousands Evacuated After Calbuco Volcano Erupts in Patagonia


Over 4,000 people have been evacuated after the Calbuco Volcano in Chilean Patagonia erupted twice yesterday.

The government declared a State of Emergency for the area, which includes the city of Puerto Montt, a transport hub and popular gateway to southern Chile.

An area 20km around the volcano has been cleared amid health concerns related to falling ash and smoke. Local schools have been closed and sports activities cancelled, while some flights have been affected.

The Calbuco Volcano eruption (Photo: Pablo Lamas, via flickr)

The Calbuco Volcano eruption (Photo: Pablo Lamas, via flickr)

Emergency measures are also being implemented across the Andes in Argentina, where towns such as Bariloche, Villa La Angostura, and San Martín de Los Andes have already been affected by ash clouds. Several flights to region have been cancelled today as a precaution (check here for details).

The Calbuco volcano, which had been largely dormant for over 50 years, erupted twice in the space of a few hours yesterday. The height of activity occurred in the early hours of the morning, when lava spewed out from the crater. The plume of smoke and ash rose up to 11km and was visible from space.

Experts from the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) said that Calbuco is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, but that they were surprised that the eruption came without clear warning signals.

“Volcanoes of this type usually give precursory warnings for a long time [before an eruption],” Sernageomin’s Hugo Moreno told La Tercera newspaper. “It’s very odd that it fired off in such a short space of time. It’s a strange phenomenon on a global scale.”

Sernageomin noted that the level of activity in the volcano had declined this morning, though there are still concerns that a third eruption could occur.

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Chile: Bachelet Signs Law Allowing Same-Sex Civil Unions


President Michelle Bachelet declared the area that Tuesday's earthquake hit to be a 'catastrophe zone' (Photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkpvic/Télam/lz)

President Michelle Bachelet declared the area that Tuesday’s earthquake hit to be a ‘catastrophe zone’ (Photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkpvic/Télam/lz)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet yesterday signed a new law that will grant homosexual partners the same rights as heterosexual couples in civil unions.

The new law, which was approved by Congress in January and will come into full effect in October, creates a new legal status for ‘civil partnerships’ to run alongside the existing ‘single’, ‘married’, ‘widowed’, and ‘divorced’.

“Today we advance as a society,” said Bachelet in a ceremony to sign the law. “We are taking a fundamental step on the part of rights, justice, and respect for individual freedom. Today we promulgate a law that recognises and formalises the unity of partnerships, both those involving couples of the same sex and those with a man and a woman.”

According to the law, those in civil unions will share the same rights as married couples in terms of medical decisions, family relationships, inheritance, and employment benefits. The estate of each person will remain separate in a civil union, unless the partners decide to combine them as one. In addition, same-sex marriages celebrated abroad will be recognised as civil unions in Chile.

Bachelet said that the new law would benefit up to two million people in Chile. “Our social institutions should be in the service of people’s reality, and not the other way round,” declared the president.

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Chile: 26 Dead in Floods Affecting Northern Regions


Interior Undersecretary Mahmud Aleuy gives an update on the situation in the northern regions (photo: Interior Undersecretary)

Interior Undersecretary Mahmud Aleuy gives an update on the situation in the northern regions (photo: Interior Undersecretary)

The official death toll in northern Chile reached 26 this morning, due to recent flooding in the normally arid desert area, according to local reports. To date, the flooding that began on 24th March in the regions of Atacama, Antofagasta, and Coquimbo has directly affected 29,741 people.

According to the Chilean Government’s National Emergency Office, 120 people are declared missing in the worst floods the region has seen in 80 years. Rains of this intensity have not been seen since 1997, reports the office.

As of Monday, 2,527 people have sought safety in shelters, 2,071 houses have been destroyed, and over 6,000 suffered considerable damage.

“We are doing everything humanly possible to arrive as quickly as possible to where [the victims] are,” declared President Michelle Bachelet last Thursday. She called for an evacuation of the area, and urged evacuees to seek safety in shelters that have been set up throughout the region.

Helicopters and boats from the Armed Forces have been deployed in rescue and assistance efforts, in addition to police from the Special Operations Group. The governments of the US and Mexico have donated US$100,000 each to aid in relief efforts.

The flooding has come as part of a series of disasters in Chile recently, including a 5.5 magnitude earthquake on 1st April that shook the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo, but caused no deaths. The Interior Undersecretary, Mahmud Aleuy, declared a national alert for the southern region of La Araucanía due to raging forest fires last week. Fires result from an eight-year drought and threaten 100-year-old trees.

Finally, the threat of eruption of the Villarrica volcano in the south has prompted the evacuation of approximately 4,000 people in four towns located at the foot of the volcano.

“All we’re missing is a meteorite,” said Aleuy in response to the recent string of natural disasters.

 

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Chile: Villarrica Volcano Erupts, Thousands Evacuated


Villarrica Volcano erupts in Southern Chile (photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkovic)

Villarrica Volcano erupts in southern Chile (photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkovic)

The Villarrica Volcano, close to the town of Pucón, in southern Chile, erupted at around 3am this morning, forcing over 3,000 people to leave the area.

Chilean authorities decreed a red alert, as the volcano began spewing ash and lava up to 3km into the air. President Michelle Bachelet organised an emergency meeting at the government house, La Moneda, with the Interior, Defence, and Health Ministers and the director of the National Emergency Office, in order to gather all the information available and to coordinate the response measures, including the evacuation of 3,385 people in the towns of Pucón and Conaripe. The president also indicated she will travel to the affected area today.

Pucón mayor Carlos Parra said that “the volcano is completely passive” after the eruption which lasted for 20 minutes. By 4.30am the town was already “back to normal”, though the roads that link Pucón with Villarrica and Curarrehue remain closed. Classes have been suspended and various schools have been made available to house the evacuees.

The 2840m-high Villarrica volcano is located 780km south of the capital Santiago, in an area popular with tourists and hikers. According to the country’s Mining Ministry, its last major eruption was in 1985.

 

 

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Out Now: El Vals de los Inútiles


“This is a special moment,” announced Natalia de la Vega, Argentine co-producer of ‘El Vals de los Inútiles‘, to an audience gathered for the premiere of the documentary in Buenos Aires last Thursday. “The president of Chile has just signed off the first phase of education reform.”

Two days earlier, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had approved key changes to Chile’s education system, adding an extra reason to celebrate at the showing of a film about the struggle for education reform.

Edison Cájas’ first feature film tells the story of Chile’s movement for free education through the experiences of two characters who took part in the “Maratón por la Educación” in 2011. Students calculated that it would cost US$1.8bn (or US$1,800m) to fund public education in Chile for a year, and as such committed to collectively running 1,800 hours around the Palacio de la Moneda, the house of the government in Santiago.

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The evolution of the protest is presented through the eyes of 17-year-old Darío, a quiet high school student, and Miguel Ángel, 58, whose life revolves around tennis. De la Vega notes that in the film “you’re not going to see the well-known faces from the movement. We are interested in telling the stories of the regular people.”

The characters were deliberately chosen for their contrasting lifestyles: “All of the people had to sign up on a list to run. Darío was the youngest, and he interested us because he was a student at the Instituto Nacional de Chile, the most prestigious high school in the country. And Miguel Ángel was one of the oldest people on the list, and we knew that he had been tortured during the Pinochet era.” During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which ran from 1973 to 1990, tens of thousands of people were illegally detained and tortured.

By repeatedly showing the everyday experiences of the two characters, interwoven with scenes of the runners, the film subtly illustrates the gradual building of the strength of the relay. The shot of the silent solo runner at night is followed by an image of other runners weaving through the crowded streets of the city by day, increasingly supported by car horns and clapping pedestrians. Slowly, the solo night runner transforms into a pack of runners, who continue even during the dark hours of the early morning.

The Waltz / El Vals de los Inútiles from 3boxmedia on Vimeo.

This kind of subtle repetition contributes to a sense of slow, persistent change that has characterised the student movement as a whole. Little by little, Miguel Angel and Darío become increasingly drawn into the movement. Initially, Miguel Ángel is hesitant to involve himself in the protests. His experience exemplifies the hesitation of the generation that lived under Pinochet to actively protest against the government. Gradually though, he begins to support the students and revisit his own past of torture and repression by the dictatorship.

In one of the rare moments in which he speaks during the film, Miguel Ángel tells his daughter the story of his own kidnapping and torture. “He hadn’t been able to tell his family until that moment,” says De la Vega of the scene. “He couldn’t do it before.” Through the film he demonstrates “overcoming fear, leaving fear behind when he sees something more important.” Despite the fear that still lingers from the Pinochet era, the students of Darío’s generation are able to speak freely. In this way the film offers a powerful insight not only into the current movement for free and accessible education, but also of the country’s broader progress since the return to democracy.

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The day the activists run the final hour and complete their goal of 1,800 hours, the celebration is brief. The school that Darío and his classmates had occupied as part of the protest is cleaned, the floors mopped, and the students once again don their uniforms to return to classes. Despite the achievement of the marathon’s goal, the final scene leaves us with a feeling of the quiet, persistent fight, in which nothing really changes – but no one gives up. Although the ending leaves the viewer with a sense of an unfinished story, De la Vega points out that that is the intention. Despite the lack of closure “the film has a spark of hope, there is a light at the end”.

“When we finished filming, nothing had been done. For that reason it is called ‘El Vals de los Inútiles’ [The Waltz of the Useless]. The [current] reforms are good because, in some way, they give new meaning to the film.”

Pinochet’s regime eliminated free higher education in 1981, reducing the role of the state and moving control of education towards the private sector. As a result, even public universities charge tuition.

This creates an enormous financial burden on the part of Chilean families and the students themselves. According to a 2013 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 21.4% of primary and secondary education funding comes from private investment, the majority from families themselves. In higher education, 87.9% of expenditure comes form private sources. Middle- and lower-class students are especially punished by this system, as many barely finish their studies and are forced to begin working to pay their enormous debt. Protesters claim that in this privatised system, education has ceased to be a mechanism of social mobility, and instead reproduces and amplifies inequality.

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Students argue that education should be free, especially when looking to their South American neighbour, Argentina, where education, including in the prestigious public universities, is completely free.

“Chileans saw us as a model for an educational system,” says De la Vega. “I come from a poor family, and if it weren’t for the public education in Argentina I would not be where I am now.” Her appreciation for the opportunity to study moved her to participate. “In this movement no student alone can affect these changes, but together we certainly can.”

On 27th January, two days before the documentary’s release in Buenos Aires, President Bachelet signed off the first part of her education reform plan, which had played a major part in her election campaign for a second term in 2013.

The changes approved include prohibiting schools that receive state support from charging fees. Additionally, the reform ends the admission process in primary and secondary schools based on previous academic performance, socioeconomic factors, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, or disability. The new law, which punishes violators with a fine, will come into effect on 1st March 2016.

“This is a victory but there remains much to be done. It’s a long process, and there are many more parts of the reform that have not yet been sanctioned,” explains De la Vega.

‘El Vals…’ is a welcome variation from more traditional offerings in the genre, which provide extensive explanation of the context and the main players. It seeks, through images rather than words, to give its audience an emotional view into the biggest protest in post-Pinochet Chile; a protest which, as De la Vega says, “is a great step”.

The film will be playing at Cine BAMA Roque Saenz Peña (Diagonal Norte) 1150 every day at 1.50pm and 7.20pm, and general entrance is $40. Learn about updates on the film’s Facebook page.

 

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