Chilean cities have witnessed near continuous rallies for two months that have torpedoed support for President Sebastian Piñera, leaving him with the lowest approval rating among Chilean leaders since the dictatorship ended in 1990. The rallies show growing frustration with a political system that has failed to provide a route to a better life.
For years, Chileans have waited to reap the fruits of a growing economy. Similar student protests five years ago ended when the center-left Concertación government offered a dialogue, but there were no lasting changes. Burned by that experience, today's students are refusing to back down. Though the government has offered new educational policies, the student response has been to expand their list of demands – including nationalization of the country's copper mines to pay for education.
Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the students' basic goals, even as the general public has dealt with bombardments of tear gas and the looting and vandalism that have accompanied some marches. The non-partisan Centro de Estudios Publicos found that 80 percent of the public opposed for-profit education. Support for the government has fallen to an all-time low of 26 percent, according to polling late last month.
But there are signs that support for the students may be waning. Student leader Camila Vallejo recently had her home address and other personal details revealed on Twitter and a Facebook group formed online threatening to stone her house. Last night, a group of about 20 civilians attacked a high school that is under student occupation, while police forced their way into another high school and evicted the students, according to local newspaper La Tercera.
The movement has drawn hundreds of thousands of marchers into the streets and given rise to street theater such as a mass kiss-in and hundreds of people dancing to the music of Lady Gaga. It marks a change for Chilean youth, who have long been alienated from politics.