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Newspaper accounts of the university protests

From ChilNet
June 1997

Tension builds at University of Chile; Conflict mounts with more student takeovers

El Mercurio, La Epoca
27 May 1997

Administrative officials at the University of Chile warned Monday that the student protest movement, involving repeated seizures of academic buildings, could jeopardize completion of the academic year.

Academic and administrative disputes first raged at the U. of Chile's Law School in April, spread briefly to its Dental School, and then on to the Geology School. Just when all seemed to be under control, the conflict erupted again last Friday at the Social Sciences School.

The vice chancellor for academic affairs, Fernando Lolas, called on the student body not to be swayed by "this minority group" headed by the Student Federation (FECH). Unless the series of campus takeovers comes to an end, the U. of Chile may shut down early this year, he warned.

The FECH has asked for an interim government run by students, faculty and staff, with the resignation of chancellor Jaime Lavados as part of the deal. Lavados has been under fire for his management style, including the unilateral appointment of an interim Law School dean without input from faculty or students. The chancellor rejects the FECH's solution, calling it "co-government."

At the start of the Social Sciences takeover Friday, student leader Eva Carmona explained what is motivating the FECH. "For the first time," she said, "we have a major consensus and a spirit of reflection among students to come together and fight to bring democracy to the university, repeal statutes imposed by the dictatorship, and demand the resignation of chancellor Jaime Lavados."

Eight hundred students continue to occupy the Social Sciences School and students at other university departments have vowed to follow suit as part of a university-wide movement instigated by the FECH.

Students' demands found favor among U. of Chile administrative staff. Carlo Leiva, president of the union that represents administrative personnel, said the student proposal expresses "a long unfulfilled desire of the entire university community to participate in developing changes the university needs to chart its future."

University strife first flared over a contentious election for Law School dean a month ago. Pablo Rodriguez, the founder of the hard- right Patria y Libertad political party which was active during the 1970s, was a leading candidate for dean. A protracted student takeover ultimately compelled him to withdraw from the race and depart from the Law School. Administrative elections for the permanent Law School dean have yet to take place.

Lavados, chancellor of the entire U. of Chile system, dismissed the student mobilizations that have sprung up throughout the university system as "politically motivated," and speculated that FECH president Rodrigo Rocco "wants to become a candidate for deputy." Lavados, admitted, however, that this is "the most conflictive moment" of the seven years the U. of Chile has been under his administration.

At the Engineering and Medical schools, students say they are waiting in the wings and plan to be next in line to take up the FECH movement. *

University strike grows; Deans receive student leaders

El Mercurio, La Epoca
28 May 1997

The student protest movement that began at the University of Chile spread Tuesday to other universities with more than 10,000 striking students now occupying college campuses throughout the country.

Students taking over the University of Chile's Social Sciences department were joined Tuesday by students at the schools of Architecture and Engineering. The university strike, kindled by the Student Federation (FECH), was also taken up by the University of Concepcion in the south, where students called for a day of reflection, as well as by Antofagasta's Catholic University.

At Santiago's Metropolitan Technological University (UTEM), an estimated 6,000 students are participating in sit-ins at all three of its campus locations.

The University Board, comprised of the deans of each U. of Chile department and headed by chancellor Jaime Lavados, was compelled to suspend its regularly scheduled agenda Tuesday to listen to FECH leaders, who explained the reasons behind their strike movement. The students were well-received by some of the deans, many of whom support the changes called for by the students.

FECH president Rodrigo Rocco expressed surprise that the Board agreed to receive the student leaders, and said it is significant that several deans recognize that deep problems exist.

The student organizations say the state-run universities are in crisis as a result of a long period of financial and administrative neglect. Students, backed by many faculty and administrative personnel, are calling for greater participation in academic and university government affairs by all who study or are employed at the U. of Chile. They say rules now governing the university system were developed during the military regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The FECH also want Lavados to step down as chancellor. This demand, however, is not supported by most of the University Board because the chancellor's position is one elected for a specific term by Board members.

Francisco Cumplido, secretary general of the university system and former Justice Minister, has accused the Communist Party, of which FECH leader Roco is a member, of agitating behind the scenes to stir up the university protests.

Raul Allard, the Education Ministry's Higher Education Undersecretary, called the university conflict "artificial" and said the movement fails to address any "serious, fundamental" issues. He said the government has increased its budgetary allocations for the university system by 47 percent since 1990.

Congress members from the governing Concertacion parties, however, said the student protests should not be dismissed as trivial.

Socialist Dep. Jaime Estevez said events at university campuses should be taken as "a warning signal" because they reflects a "strong discontent among young people." Sen. Roberto Munoz, a member of the Party for Democracy and head of the Senate Education Committee, said if the government does not react soon, an explosion of social conflicts could lay ahead in 1997. *

Government steps into university fray

El Mercurio, El Diario
2 June 1997

TEXT: Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano Friday announced that a bill on state university modernization will enter Congress shortly, but student leaders were cautious about prematurely abandoning their movement.

Arellano promised that legislation that stagnated a year ago in Congress will be revived with new wording next month.

Rodrigo Roco, leader of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH), said he will ask Arellano for a meeting to discuss just what he has in mind and apprise him personally of the issues that prompted the university-wide student strike. "We hope the government is not trying to throw Chancellor Jaime Lavados a life jacket, because we still have not discussed how the new bylaws will be drafted," he said.

On Friday students and representatives of the Board of Deans met, coming closer to an agreement on the need to revise university bylaws and structure. In the meantime, however, Roco said U of Chile student mobilizations will increase until an acceptable agreement is reached. The FECH and faculty allies also insist that their demand for Lavados' resignation remains unchanged.

Party for Democracy leader Antonio Leal said students and professors are right that the U of Chile has deteriorated greatly for lack of a sufficient budget and poor administrative policy. While agreeing that Lavados has been ineffective as chancellor, Leal said it is "undemocratic"to seek his resignation, because Lavados was elected through a participatory and fair election procedure.

Students bring U of Chile to near halt

El Mercurio, La Epoca
3 June 1997

TEXT: Student takeovers and strikes Monday brought most of University of Chile (U. of Chile) to a near halt, with the giant Medical School entering the movement as well.

Ten schools of the U. of Chile system have been paralyzed by the student movement for more than 10 days now. The Medical School, with its 2,000 member student body, joined the mobilizations yesterday, bringing the total number of students affected by the movement to 15,000.

The Federation of Students (FECH) wants to create an assembly that would give students and faculty full participation in drafting structural statutes and develop a plan to foster university development. They maintain that an overhaul of the university system must begin with the resignation of chancellor Jaime Lavados, a demand that the University Board and the Education Ministry reject.

A special session of the Board is scheduled to convene today, Tuesday, to consider a proposal the FECH has promised to present.

Student movement expands

El Mercurio, La Epoca
4 June 1997

With the University of Santiago (USACH) joining the nation-wide student movement Monday, a total 41,000 students were out of class this week in the Santiago Metropolitan Region.

The students seek greater participation and resources. The strike began at the University of Chile, and received renewed vigor when the 18,000 USACH students brought their university to a halt yesterday. Currently, the U. of Chile, USACh, and the Metropolitan Technological University (UTEM) are paralyzed, with the Metropolitan University of Education Sciences (UMCE) expected to join in this week.

An assembly of the National Student Confederation is planned for this weekend to analyze the situation of universities throughout the country and draft a unified proposal for academic authorities.

Students unimpressed by government offer

El Mercurio, La Epoca
5 June 1997

Government officials Thursday promised to allocate more funds for the country's state universities, but student leaders showed no sign of easing their university mobilizations.

A meeting of university chancellors and government officials concluded with acknowledgment from Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano that "insufficient resources" have been budgeted for the universities. "We are willing to correct these (financial) deficiencies," he stated and promised to correct the figures in a university modernization bill that will be introduced in Parliament later this month.

Despite the announcement of more funds on the way, students continued plans to escalate their movement on a national scale to dramatize their repudiation of the financial crisis plaguing universities and the lack of participation in academic affairs. The decision on whether to extend the mobilization nation-wide will be made at an assembly of national student federations this weekend.

On Thursday, the Metropolitan University of Education Sciences entered the movement with the announcement of an indefinite period of time, bringing the total number of students affected by the mobilizations in the capital to more than 45,000.

On Wednesday, students took to the streets with a march down Santiago's main thoroughfare of Alameda Bernardo O'Higgins and several students introduced the new tactic of "mooning." *

University student form common front

El Mercurio, La Epoca
9 June 1997

Student federations of all state-run universities agreed this weekend to develop a common platform that articulates the issues that gave rise to the national university movement.

Even though each particular university department may have slightly different problems, students agreed that the underlying problem of lack of state funding and lack of participation are common to all.

One proposal drafted during the marathon assemblies held at the University of Chile Medical School this weekend is for the creation of a Solidarity Fund. Loans from Corfo, the agency that runs state firms, would be suspended and channeled to a Solidarity Fund, with student debts owed to the university rather than a private bank.

The first step in resolving the crisis afflicting universities, students state, is for government and academic officials acknowledge that a crisis exists

Students present five demands

El Mercurio, La Epoca
10 June 1997

The Student Federations of State-run Universities Monday announced a list of five demands, and warned that if there is no response by tomorrow, nation-wide demonstrations will begin.

Rodrigo Roco, president of the University of Chile Student Federation, stated the demands drawn up during a national student assembly held in Santiago this past weekend as follows: (1) The allocation of sufficient funds to cover all loans without guarantors for 1997. (2) Funds for pay raises for administrative personnel and professors, in keeping with raises accorded other public employees. (3) Funding from the 1997 national budget to create an Historical Debt Reparations Fund. (4) An immediate end to the financing system of loans through private banks, backed by Corfo, the governemnt agency that manages state entities. (5) A budget increase equivalent to 1.5 percent of the GDP for higher education.

Students from state-run universities throughout the country are expected to arrive in Santiago Thursday for a day-long national mobilization intended to dramatize the unity and strength of the student movement.

In Santiago, the student movement has paralyzed the University of Chile, the University of Santiago, Metropolitan Technical University, and the Metropolitan Education Sciences, where a total 47,000 students are enrolled.

Government rejects student proposal

El Mercurio, La Epoca
June 1997

With the government's rejection Tuesday of student proposals for university reform, national student federations called on professors and administrative staff to join them in a national mobilization tomorrow.

Interior Minister Carlos Figueroa, who reviewed the proposals with Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano, said student demands would cost more than US$300 million and are "totally unrealistic." To threaten mobilizations before the government had a chance to hear students' proposals "is not the best way to relate to the government," he said. Figueroa said the conflict should be resolved within the universities, rather than on the streets.

Student leaders confirmed that professors and administrative personnel are ready to join in the national mobilization planned for Thursday afternoon.

In related news, Felix Schwartzmann and Humberto Maturana, recipients of the National Science Awards for 1993 and 1994, respectively, and members of the University of Chile faculty, expressed their support Monday for the university student movement. Schwartzmann and Maturana spoke at a seminar held at the Engineering School.

Schwartzmann said, "The university crisis is the cultural crisis of the whole country and students have understood this better than anyone else of the university community." Schwartzmann also criticized the University Board and agreed with students that chancellor Jaime Lavados should resign.

Humberto Maturana thanked students for opening a process of "university transformation and recovery in which it will once again become a place for educating citizens with a social conscience." He said the most important contribution the student movement can make is to spur us to "rethink the university and recover its state mandate by opening it up to all social classes, ideologies and religions."

Massive university protest in Santiago

El Mercurio, El Diario
12 June 1997

In one of the largest demonstrations in recent years, an estimated 10,000 university students, along with professors and administration staff, marched down Santiago's main thoroughfare Thursday. The demonstration blocked Alameda Bernardo O'Higgins for nearly two hours, as student leaders delivered a letter to Minister of Education Jose Pablo Arellano outlining their demands.

Rodrigo Roco president of the University of Chile Student Federation which initiated the movement two weeks ago, said the march was intended to dramatize the need for the government to resume their responsibility for higher education with greater allocations for universities. Roco said that the mobilizations will not cease until government authorities offer the nation's state-run universities concrete solutions.

Roco called the march a great success and "an historic event.., (in which) we breathed-in air from 1968," when a previous generation of students sought changes in the country's political, and social system.

Students set national march

El Mercurio, La Epoca
June 1997

Students from all the country's state-run universities were urged Monday to gather in Santiago for a national mobilization this weekend.

The Confederation of Students of Traditional Universities (Confech) hopes to draw 20,000 students to a march through Santiago Friday that will culminate with a day-long cultural and political event at O'Higgins Park.

Student leaders have been invited to meet with Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano Wednesday to discuss the government's response to student proposals: complementary resources for solidarity funds, resources for infrastructure improvements, increased financial support from the state and the introduction in Congress of a bill to restructure public university administration.

Danilo Nunez, vice president of the University of Chile student Federation (Fech), said a solution to the conflict at the U. of Chile, which launched the movement nearly three weeks ago, is in sight, as a result of ongoing meetings of the Fech, the Board of Deans and Francisco Cumplido, secretary general of the university system board.

Interview with Rodrigo Roco,

La Nacion
7 June 1997

(Ed note: 10,000 students, teachers and university administrators marched through the streets of Santiago Thursday as part of a massive nationwide strike that has paralyzed public higher education across the country for over two weeks.

In this interview, which appeared in Saturday's La Nacion, Rodrigo Roco, the popular president of the nation's largest and most important student organization, the University of Chile Student Federation (FECH), talks about last week's demonstrations and exactly what it is that the students want).

Q: Was the march a success in terms of your position before the government and the University?

RR: No. The government has taken a hard line, saying only that they plan to address a couple of legislative problems involving credit for loans. We are calling for negotiations. That means sitting at a table with administrators, professors, students, chancellor, and the government in order to discuss our differences. The truth is that the steps the government is taking are more than just a little erratic.

Q: But the bottom line is that you have very little means of applying pressure and a whole lot of demands.

RR: There are a lot of things left to do. For one thing, the professors have to stand up in support of the students, so that we can go to the government together and demand a clear answer about what it is they want to do with the public universities. If they want to privatize, they should just come right out and say so.

Q: If the University of Chile gets what it's asking for, would it continue to support the national movement?

RR: There are two distinct levels here. If we win our position, we could end the lock-ins and the strikes, but still take part in acts of solidarity on the national level in ways that do not necessarily require the loss of classes.

Q: What about the FECH's demand that the chancellor be retired?

RR: Obviously, when an organization like the FECH insists on the resignation of the chancellor, it is going to cause an impact. But we have always held this as a flexible point. If we win on our positions, you can bet that we won't care one way or the other if he stays or goes.

Q: Is it because if you do succeed in getting a congress convoked, it won't matter what the chancellor says?

RR: Not necessarily. He would continue to be important, but he would also be obligated to consider the opinion of the university community, to whom the congress would give space to express itself.

Q: Do you hope that this university wide congress will bring a form of co-government?

RR: My position is that the students must have some form of participation in the function of the university, in defining policies, for example. It would be an entirely different thing to say that we wanted to participate in the executive management. No, we are not asking for that, but we do at least demand participation in the sense of broader policy decisions. *

University of Chile conflict resolved

El Mercurio, La Epoca
18 June 1997

Significant strides were made Tuesday in the resolution of the internal conflict at the University of Chile when student leaders and the University Board reached an agreement, bringing the nearly month-long strike closer to an end.

Chancellor Jaime Lavados expressed satisfaction that the agreement maintains the university structure, and that the student takeovers and strikes that have paralyzed 11 of the 13 U. of Chile academic departments will end.

"The agreement we forged confirms that the U of Chile can listen to all members of the institution... without destroying its institutional base," said Lavados.

Rodrigo Roco, Federation of Students president, said that the agreement will be formally presented to students, professors and administrative personnel. If it meets with their approval, the agreement could be ratified by Friday and classes could resume by Monday. He added that it will not affect the national student movement sparked by the FeCh, however, and U of Chile students will continue to participate, even when their own internal problems have been resolved.

The National Confederation of Students confirmed Tuesday that a nation-wide strike at other public universities will be launched today.

Students continue with protests

El Mercurio, La Epoca
20 June 1997

National students' organizations are preparing a massive student rally for today in Santiago, as student protesters continue pressuring for change in the administration of the nation's state-run and private universities. Yesterday 7,000 students marched through Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, creating havoc with local traffic. The demonstration was finally ended with the intervention of police forces armed with water cannons and tear gas.

The agreement announced Wednesday between University of Chile student groups and university officials has also apparently fallen through. More than 200 University of Chile students occupied administration offices Thursday, protesting Rector Jaime Lavados' decision to sign the agreement unilaterally, without having first consulted with other university administrators.

"Lavados has once again exceeded the limits of the very delicate concepts that we have agreed upon these past few days in our effort to recreate this university," said Rodrigo Roco, president of the University of Chile's student body.

Francisco Cumplido, the University's Secretary General, defended Lavados's decision to unilaterally sign the accord. "At last Tuesday's meeting we were urged to proceed with the agreed upon reforms as quickly a possible, which is what Lavados has tried to do."

Deans seek end to University conflict

El Mercurio, La Epoca
24 June 1997

The Deans Committee of the University of Chile met all weekend and Monday in an attempt to find a solution to the ongoing university strike.

The committee will present its proposal to the University Council today.

Regarding the strike on the national level, the government agreed Monday to meet with student representatives from various universities to address the causes of the strike.

The dialogue follows a rally of some 6,000 college students from throughout the country at Chile Stadium last Friday night which ended in a violent confrontation with police and a burned storage building.

Students came from as far north as Tarapaca University of Arica and as far south as Magallanes to gather in support of the public university strike which has been going on for over two weeks. The students listened to live music at the stadium and addresses by student representatives.

Rodrigo Roco, president of the University of Chile Student Association (FECH), said to the students, "This university movement will not rest until we achieve a true transformation of the educational system."

The students later began marching down Alameda toward Estacion Central, where they were confronted by Carabineros (uniformed) police. A group of about 2,000 students stood by the gates of the University of Santiago de Chile (Usach) and shouted anti- government chants, and a small group burned garbage cans to form barricades.

A Carabineros Special Forces went to disperse the crowd, and the students ran inside the gates and began throwing stones at the police vehicles. Carabineros tried to break up the protest, using tear gas and armored vehicles with water cannons. The wind, however, blew the gas and water back toward the officers.

After a 30-minute conflict which cut off traffic on Alameda for an hour, a tear gas canister or a Molotov cocktail - authorities still have not determined which - set fire to a storage building within university grounds. One volunteer fireman was injured and police arrested 12 students who had entered the School of Humanities.

In related news, police also arrested Friday at least 10 students of La Frontera University in Temuco who were engaged in a protest.

Confusion over University agreement

El Mercurio, La Epoca
25 June 1997

Late last week University of Chile (U. of Chile) students and academic officials announced that an agreement to bring an end to a month-long strike was near at hand, but Tuesday confusion reigned as to whether there exists an agreement at all. Rodrigo Roco, president of the Federation of Students, said the takeovers continue at 11 of the 13 academic departments.

The remaining point of difference between students and university officials refers to the nature of a university-wide referendum on the changes that will be introduced to the U. of Chile institutional structure and development.

Students contend that the results of the referendum must be heeded, while the Board of Deans believes the vote should be taken into consideration, but the final word should remain with them.

In an effort to salvage the agreement, students proposed changing the proportion of the referendum vote, which in its current form professors' vote would weigh for 60 percent, students 30 percent and administrative staff 10 percent of the total count.

After five weeks of conflict and yesterday's marathon meeting, both students and academic officials were visibly weary and frustrated. The University Board scheduled its next meeting for Thursday. *

Police violently remove students

El Mercurio, El Diario
26 June 1997

TEXT: Violent police action Wednesday brought an end to a student occupation of the University of Chile administration building.

At the request of U. of Chile Chancellor Jaime Lavados, Carabineros police, with clubs swinging, entered through a side door and proceeded to forcibly remove students who were sitting on the floor.

At that very moment, Student Federation (FECH) leaders were inside, engaged in dialogue with university officials. Students had occupied the building in a sit-in protest early in the afternoon.

"This was a peaceful takeover," said FECH vice president Danilo Nunez, "The only violence was from the police and it was completely out of place."

Nunez was one of 108 students arrested, but released later in the day. At least five students were injured as a result of the police action.

University professors and administrative personnel, present at the time of the eviction, tried unsuccessfully to mediate with police to stop them from inflicting blows on dozens of students. Following the incident, they called again for Chancellor Lavados to resign.

University conflict approaches resolution

El Mercurio, La Epoca
27 June 1997

The conflict which has paralyzed the University of Chile (U. of Chile) for the past month took a new turn Thursday when the Board of Deans announced that negotiations have reached an end.

Less than 24 hours after police violently broke up a student sit-in, academic authorities, who met all day long without the students, expressed satisfaction with the latest draft of the agreement. Later in the day, Board members invited student leaders to hear the terms of the agreement.

Danilo Nunez, vice president of the Federation of Students (FECH), confirmed that an agreement appears to be near at hand and urged its acceptance in order to avoid exacerbating the crisis.

A majority of the FECH assembly agreed to be more flexible in its position. A faction of students, however, maintains a hard-line stance, advocating more extreme mobilizations to increase pressure on academic officials.

Nunez, a Socialist Party member, and FECH president Rodrigo Roco, of the Communist Party, have also been at odds at various moments of the conflict and on various aspects of the negotiation.

The Board of Deans' goal to resume classes Monday will depend on the ability of the FECH to solve its differences.

On the national level, negotiations have also been underway between students of state-run universities and the government. The talks reached an impasse Thursday, when student leaders demanded that the Education Ministry give specific figures for proposed scholarships and loans.

U of Chile settles dispute but others persist
30 June 1997

Students at the University of Chile (U. of Chile) expressed satisfaction Sunday with the agreement that brought an end to a month-long strike. But elsewhere students showed no sign of ending their month long protest.

An assembly of the U. of Chile Student Federation (FECH) voted Sunday to accept the latest settlement proposal, drafted by the Board of Deans in conjunction with student representatives. Today, the university council convenes to give its nod to the agreement.

"This is a partial victory but it shows what can be achieved with demonstrations," said FECH vice-president Danilo Nunez. "The chancellor's office bet that student movement would lose steam, but it never gave up."

While students at the U. of Chile prepared to go back to classes, the Confederation of Students (Confech), which represents student organizations at all state-run universities, met this weekend in Valdivia to map out their next move. The Confech assembly agreed to organize a national march to the Congress building in Valparaiso.

In Region IIX, academic authorities of the University of Concepcion gave students an ultimatum. Unless students return to class by July 4, officials there threatened to end the semester early at the departments students have occupied.

At the University of La Frontera, in Temuco, however, chancellor Heinrich von Saer acknowledged the legitimacy of student demands. "The strike has legitimate merits because the higher education system of state universities has been adrift a very long time," he said.

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