SANTIAGO, Chile - They call themselves the "penguins" for their white-on-dark school uniforms, but what 700,000 Chilean high school kids have pulled off in recent days signals the emergence of a new generation in a nation transformed from dictatorship to democracy.
Marching in the streets and occupying schools, the teenagers' three-week revolt against their decrepit education system became known as the "Penguin Revolution," Chile's biggest protest since democracy was restored in 1990.
Chile's teenagers, the first generation born in the twilight of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 17-year military dictatorship, have discovered strength in numbers, winning $200 million in new spending — a 2.78 percent increase in the annual education budget — and representation on a council that will propose sweeping reforms.
"The students have learned the power of having a voice," sociologist Manuel Antonio Garreton said.
It's all the more striking in a nation that had been cowed into silence by a dictatorship during which 3,100 people died or disappeared. The student protests have emboldened other groups — health care workers staging a one-day nationwide strike Tuesday for better working conditions, victims of violence demanding justice, even drivers upset about gasoline prices.
Felipe Anabalon, 18, says his parents were at school during the dictatorship and could not demonstrate "because they could have been killed." (emphasis mine--Darren)
That, dear readers, is what it means to live under oppression. When you live in a country in which you can publicly whine about how oppressed you are, you are not oppressed. Let's read on:
Chile is an economic success story whose free-market foundations were laid during the dictatorship, and fewer than 20 percent live in poverty. But inequalities linger, most noticeably in its education system: schools lack books or winter heating, teachers are underpaid and indifferent, and even the poorest students must pay $40 to take the high school exams that decide whether they will get into college.
The students targeted a particularly unpopular law from the final days of the dictatorship that shifted most responsibility for funding education from government to municipalities, causing wide gaps in quality between rich and poor areas.
We have just the opposite situation in California, and still there's the so-called problem of underfunding. Seems like neither system is guaranteed to provide enough money for education!
There's plenty more to this story. Go read the whole thing while the link remains good.
Update, 7/5/06: Here's a more permanent link.