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(en) Chile: The Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios (FEL) is 10 years old by Manu García (ca)

Date Fri, 17 May 2013 17:33:48 +0300

Chilean libertarians are celebrating. It is 10 years since the birth - on 21 May 2003 in the city of Valparaíso - of one of the organizations of the libertarian political project that has achieved greatest national influence: the Libertarian Students' Front (FEL). -- The FEL grew out of the need felt by libertarians to acquire an effective tool on a national level to work within the student movement, one that was formed from a the convergence of various groups who were doing some day-by-day work on the ground in all the universities and high schools in Chile. ---- The political and social context in which the organization developed was marked by the legacy of the dictatorship led by General Pinochet, a dictatorship that involved an economic restructuring serving the interests of large multinational groups and businessmen linked to the regime, and the destruction of the rights which had been conquered by the people over decades of struggle, which saw the outlawing of their parties, trade unions and social organizations, and the persecution of its militants together with the building of new institutions made to measure.

In the field of education, the dictatorship promoted a series of laws that transformed it from a right into merchandise and gave way to a process of privatization and segmentation of education at all levels, creating one education for the rich and another for the poor.

The Concertación, the coalition of centre-right and centre-left that ruled Chile from the plebiscite that ended the dictatorship until 2010 (when its collapsed, giving way to a new right-wing government) not only essentially maintained the education model inherited from the dictatorship, but perfected and adapted it, adopting as unquestionable truth the neoliberal dogma that the market is the best provider of goods and services, even in areas such as education and that the State's role should be limited to legislating and regulating economic activity.

One result was that the increase in university fees in Chile as a result of their modernization resulted primarily in indebtedness of students and their families: the average cost of university education in Chile is the most expensive the world, higher than the minimum wage of a worker.

Another was the proliferation of higher education institutions, set up like service companies, with little or no concern for academic standards and the continuity of an educational project beyond the short-term economic benefit of its investors.

But this exclusivist situation began to fought against when the student movement began to raise their demands, expressed on the streets in huge numbers during successive annual waves, each one with more stakeholders involved and with greater demands: the mochilazo ("schoolbag demo") in 2001 for changes to the student bus pass system and for access to higher education as the major claims of high school students, the "penguin rebellion" (named after Chilean school uniforms) in 2006, also held by high school students, reaching a zenith in 2011 during the "Chilean Spring" movement in which the joint movement of high school and university students forced itself into the centre of public debate on the fundamental issues of education: its property, its management, its orientation, its funding, its relationship with society... with such power and depth that it caused the whole model imposed during the dictatorship and still valid today to be put into question.

The result was that common opinion veered to the left and cracks appeared in the neoliberal consensus that had dominated Chilean politics, opening up debates that had long been avoided, such as the sovereignty over the country's natural resources, mainly copper mining which has been in the hands of private conglomerates for 40 years and who leave only a small part of their yield in the country. Or the lack of proper public services and social rights such as housing, healthcare or education, which could be financed, in fact, by the copper.

In that broad social and student movement that two years later was still continuing to shake Chile and trying to reach a higher level, from demands and social protest to the construction of a political alternative and the fight over power, the Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios, with its 10 years of experience behind it, is playing a role as a motor and in programmatic and strategic guidance through its daily work in the grassroots and in its leadership, either alone or in coalition with other leftist forces, and the numerous Federations of Students in the major education centres of the country.

Today, and in its own right, the FEL is not only a key force in the libertarian political project but also a major player on the national stage, part of the popular torrent that is looking for ways to break down the walls of institutions imposed by the dictatorship and open up roads and possible scenarios for a new Chile within a new Latin America.

Manu García

Translated by FdCA - International Relations Office
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