Take-overs of the 2006 Student Protests in Chile

Following three weeks of protests, little progress for the students' demands had been achieved. A turning point arose when students of the prestigious school Instituto Nacional and Liceo de Aplicación overran the school campuses during the night of May 19, 2006 demanding an improvement in the educational reform including: the ending of the system of schools being run by municipalities (present since 1982), the abolition of the LOCE, as well as a clear declaration by President Bachelet in her traditional May 21 speech to the National Congress. In her speech, the President only indirectly referred to the students' demands and instead focused in condemning the students' recent acts of violence.

I want our citizens to be critical, self-conscious, and to express their ideas and demands. However, the criticism must be expressed in a constructive manner, laying clear proposals upon a table, and most importantly, with an unveiled face without resorting to violence. I want to be crystal clear in this, what we have witnessed in the past weeks is unacceptable. I shall not tolerate acts of vandalism or intimidation. We won democracy without resorting to concealing our faces and we shall continue enjoying it without doing so (this was in reference to the practice of certain individuals who anonomously partook in violence under the cover of hoods).

-- Michelle Bachelet, Presidential Speech, May 21, 2006
The government's reply did not satisfy the students' leaders who called for the continuation of demonstrations, even though the Instituto Nacional students desisted in its school take-over in exchange for a school strike which was supported by teachers, parents and the school administrators alike. Occupations of several Liceos (public high schools) continued -- among others Liceo A-13 (formerly, Confederación Suiza) and Liceo Carmela Carvajal -- and two failed attempts to occupy the Liceo José Victorino Lastarria in Providencia. Although peaceful, the occupations were rejected by the government and the Education Minister Martín Zilic, broke off negotiations stating that he would not come back to the table as long as the mobilizations continued.

In order to move forward in a discussion about quality, we need everybody's participation (...) that's a dialogue, not with occupations of schools, not with violence on the streets, not with covered faces. The president said we won democracy with uncovered faces and we are going to maintain talks with an uncovered face as a lesson to some youths in Santiago who have occupied their schools; that's not the way. The path is through dialogue, that is the way you build a better education and make a big leap to the future

-- Martín Zilic, Coyhaique, May 23, 2006
However, the ministerial strategy of avoiding dialogue did not work out. Since April 24, there were fourteen schools either occupied or on strike including the Liceo Nº1 de Niñas -- the school that President Bachelet herself attended as a student.

What is not understandable is that while trying to talk, there's also the applying of pressure. That is not the way to create dialogue in a democracy. It is terrific that they have chosen to reveal their faces. Now what they must do is to be able to dialogue seriously, but with a will to negotiate from both sides. The government is willing to discuss many topics, but it must be done with respect and without pressure. The government has already shown that it agrees to seek a solution on the PSU and the school bus pass, jointly with the ministries of Transportation, Education, and Finance, and they know this...regarding the JEC, they know that I am interested in knowing their evaluation of the JEC, if they consider that it isn't fulfilling its objective, what we want is to improve the quality of education, we are completely available to listen to everything.
-- President Michelle Bachelet

That same night, eleven schools in Santiago downtown, Ñuñoa, Estación Central, La Cisterna, Maipú, Providencia and Recoleta were occupied by students. The students received political support from deputies from the governing coalition, the College of Teachers and other institutions, leaving Minister Zilic in a fragile position. He finally called for a new round of negotiations with "all representatives of schools in conflict" which was scheduled for the following Monday May 29. Throughout the day, more schools were occupied in Arica, Iquique, Valparaíso, Rancagua and Concepción.

On May 26, the situation escalated, as students from Maipú, San Miguel, Las Condes, Puente Alto and Pudahuel carried out peaceful marches and private schools adhered to the events. One-hundred thousand students (and up to a 100 schools) were on mass demonstrations throughout the country. Meanwhile, the ACES called for a national strike on Tuesday May 30, which was supported by the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH), and the Teachers National Union.

Public opinion became increasingly critical of the government and its mishandling of the crisis, forcing President Bachelet to express her will to reestablish a dialogue "in an agenda without exclusions" but reaffirming that this new stand was not a contradiction nor a defeat: "What we have here is the decision to sit down to talk and listen. There will be things which we agree on and there will be others which we do not".

The last opportunity to avoid a nationwide strike was the meeting called by the Minister Zilic with the representatives of the schools in conflict. However, this meeting was not presided by the minister himself but rather by the deputy minister Pilar Romaguera, a situation which was rejected by the students. In addition, the site chosen for the negotiations did not have the capacity for the approximately one hundred student representatives, leading to the secondary students refusing to continue the negotiations unless all school representatives were in one room. The government maintained confidence in continuing negotiations, refusing to consider the situation as a failure and insisting that a small step had been achieved.

In the ministry, disorganization reigned. It was pretty clear they were in a hurry, and we can't sit down and talk and even more resolve anything in such circumstances.

-- César Valenzuela, ACES spokesman.
After the breakdown of the meeting, the ACES reorganized itself into six regional branches and set up a meeting with senators of both the Concertación and the Alliance for Chile, another sign of the widespread support the movement had won across the political spectrum.

School movement Date Occupied On Strike Total
Friday 19 2 0 2
Sunday 21 2 0 2
Monday 22 1 4 5
Tuesday 23 6 8 14
Wednesday 24 17 10 27
Thursday 25 24 16 40
Friday 26 ~30 > 70 > 100
Tuesday 30 320 > 100 > 420