PROTESTS and the occupation of schools marked the beginning of the week in Chile, where the University Selection Test (PSU, in Spanish) was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
The National Coordinator of High-School Students (CONES) and the Coordinating Assembly of High-School Students (ACES) of Chile, which reject that form of evaluation because it increases inequalities, called to boycott the process.
Since early Monday morning, several of the 160 schools nationwide that were chosen to conduct the test have been occupied, as was the case in this capital, Valparaiso, Concepcion, Puerto Montt, Copiapo and other cities.
The university admission tests, which were scheduled to begin at 9:00 hours, local time, with participation of nearly 300,000 students from all over Chile, were suspended or postponed in the schools occupied by students, and in some cases, the venues were hastily changed.
Notwithstanding, the Vice President of the Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities (CRUCH), Aldo Valle, called on students to remain calm, and reaffirmed the commitment of that institution to guaranteeing ‘equal conditions’ for those who take the test.
For his part, the President of the Chilean Teachers’ Association Mario Aguilar pointed out that for a long time, the union has opposed the PSU, which is segregating, sexist and classist, but he supported the CRUSH’s decision not to postpone the test again.
Meanwhile, in Chile workers and youth continue to rise up against President Sebastián Piñera’s austerity.
At the beginning of the new year, the rejection of the Piñera administration remains at 80 per cent, according to the Plaza Pública poll by CADEM.
The poll, carried out in the first days of 2020, indicates a rise of two percentage points with respect to the previous week among those who support the president, but even so, his approval rating stands at just 13 per cent.
As for his Cabinet, the approval rating is 15 per cent and those who disapprove of the team amount to 78 per cent, both of which remain low, with slight fluctuations, after 11 weeks of social unrest, unprecedented in the last 30 years.
The investigation deepened on this occasion in relation to the constitutional process planned for this year, and in this regard 72 per cent of respondents agreed that the country needs a new Constitution, while those disagreeing represented only 20 per cent, and eight per cent said they didn’t know.
It is noteworthy that even among those who identify with the right-wing, a high percentage (49) stressed they agree with the drafting of a new Constitution; a figure that increases to 82 per cent among those who identify as ‘centre’ and 94 per cent per cent among left-wing citizens.
The drafting of a new Constitution, to replace that imposed at the time of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, is one of the main demands of the popular movement in recent months, for which a plebiscite has been convened for April 26.
Regarding the content of the Constitution, 92 per cent state that it must guarantee the social rights of the population; 83 per cent support Chile becoming a plurinational State that recognises indigenous peoples, and 68 per cent propose that power be shared between the president and parliament.
Likewise, 65 per cent support direct State participation in activities linked to public needs, reducing the space of the private sector, and 52 per cent agree with a legislative system in which half plus one of the votes of legislators are enough to approve all laws.
- Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez’s administration began its ‘Anti-Hunger’ programme on Monday in the northern and poor-stricken province of Chacho with the allocation of 66,499 food cards to low-income families.
‘The plan seeks to guarantee the right to eat well but, also, it is a great source of employment and promotion for those who produce food in the country,’ said Minister of Social Development Daniel Arroyo, who signed the agreement for the implementation of the plan with Governor of Chaco Jorge Capitanich.
Capitanich assured that ‘the people of Chaco, today stand up to fight against hunger in every corner of our territory’ and specified that the food cards will be distributed starting Jan. 20.
‘We want the money that enters the province as a result of a direct social transfer to remain here, in a local network of suppliers and entrepreneurs of the popular economy, so that it has a multiplier effect that allows us to guarantee more income to more families,’ he explained.
The food cards are issued by the New Bank of Chaco S.A. and will be given to parents with children of up to six-years-old, who receive the Universal Allowance per Child (AUH), to pregnant women from three months, who receive the Pregnancy Allowance; and people with disabilities who receive the AUH.
The card will be automatically credited on the third Friday of each month with a fixed monthly amount of 4,000 to 6,000 pesos (US$70 to US$100) to purchase all varieties of food, except alcoholic beverages. Besides, on one day of the month, beneficiaries will have access to special discounts of up to 30 percent.
The programme, the Minister explained, aims to tackle three social problems that have deepened over the past four years: hunger and malnutrition, family over-indebtedness, and lack of employment.
‘So let’s start with the basics: in Argentina, everyone has to eat well, there can’t be hunger in a country that produces food,’ Arroyo added.
The plan aims to reactivate local consumption and production. Bank credit will play a key role, providing machinery and supplies and preparing local entrepreneurs and producers to the demand that will be generated.
‘There are more than 66,000 families from Chaco that will have funds to buy from local suppliers and generate an economic movement in the province. Argentina is being rebuilt from below, from each town,’ the government official concluded.
Around 15 million people are suffering from food insecurity in Argentina, according to the latest figures. This comes as the economy has been in crisis ever since former President Mauricio Macri signed a multibillion-dollar IMF deal, the country has since experienced runaway inflation of over 50 per cent, unemployment, and negative growth.
- Colombia’s government and the National Strike Committee are expected to resume talks on January 19 to look for an agreement that will put an end to mass protests, according to Diego Molano, designated by President Ivan Duque to lead the National Dialogue.
The committee stated in December that meetings would be held from January 15 to 29 at local, municipal, departmental and regional levels in preparation for the national meeting to be held on Jan 30-31 with the committee and other organisations from various sectors.
Protesters and organiSations continue to strike against the policies implemented by Duque and the resurgence of violence in the country. On November 21, as millions of Colombians, took to the streets to hold the biggest protest against Duque since he came to power in August 2018.
Besides being concerned about his government’s little commitment to the Peace Agreements, the population rejects a neoliberal policy package which seeks to raise the compulsory retirement age, increase workers’ contributions to the pension system, reduce the state’s role in social security, lower the young people’s minimum wage, among other things.
So far, however, the right-wing president has failed to consolidate a parliamentary majority willing to approve his proposals, which are often justified as if they were tools to ‘fight corruption.’
However, after almost two months the demands exceed one hundred, among which are the dismantling of the Police Esmad (Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron), the revision of international treaties, the establishment of anti-corruption laws, the continuation of the dialogues with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the prohibition of fracking and agrarian reform, among others.
The National Strike Committee has pointed out that the ‘dominant regime, headed by Ivan Duque, is deepening its anti-popular and anti-democratic offensive by treating social protest as a war.’
According to a letter released by its spokesperson in December, the government ‘seeks to delay and disseminate our demands, pretending that they are part of the so-called National Dialogue that only seeks new forms of deception, division, and neglect, which we are not willing to allow.’