Chile: 150,000 join first organized education protest of 2013

Estudiantes chilenos marchando por la Alameda

150,000 join first organized education protest of 2013; Bachelet receives official party nomination; World Health Organization places Chile in top 10 most obese nationsEstudiantes chilenos marchando por la Alameda

150,000 join first organized education protest of 2013

On Thursday the Federation of Chilean Students (Confederación de Estudiantes Chilenos—Confech) held its first major demonstration of 2013. The march was one of the biggest public demonstrations since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990.

According to student groups, 150,000 people attended the march, which began in Santiago’s Plaza Italia and ended with a concert at the Mapocho Station Cultural Centre.

The march was calm, but the day ended with violent clashes between police and antisocial anarchist groups known as ‘encapuchados’ (‘hooded ones’). The police sprayed water and gas at the encapuchados, and the disruption caused the early bread-up of the concert at Mapocho Station.

Sources close to the police say 90 demonstrators were arrested, though no official figures have been released to the press.

Four demonstrators and six police officers were hospitalized for injuries sustained during Thursday’s protest.

Representatives of Confech and other student organization made a public statement in which they called the march a success. The student leaders highlighted the massive and diverse nature of the demonstration, which they said revived the movement for free and transparent public education at an important moment in the electoral calendar.

At the heart of the student movement is the belief that free, high-quality public education is a human right. Student groups have rejected recent education reform proposals from the government of Sebastián Piñera, calling them insufficient.

Student leaders have also accused the current presidential candidates of paying lip service to students’ demands and using the free education movement as a political tool.

Confech has announced that the next demonstration in support of free education will take place on 8 May.

Bachelet receives official party nomination

This week at Santiago’s Teatro Caupolicán, Chile’s Socialist Party (Partido Socialist—PS) and Party for Democracy (Partido por la Democracia—PPD) officially declared Bachelet to be the presidential candidate for their left-leaning bloc.

In her acceptance speech, the former president outlined her campaign’s priorities and described what she would do with a second term in office. Bachelet said she believes ‘Chile needs a new constitution.’ The candidate said she would seek to reform the tax system and the controversial binomial election system that is a holdover from the Pinochet dictatorship.

The speech emphasized themes of equality and inclusion. Bachelet said that the ‘pillar’ of her campaign is the fight against inequality.

In response, Laurence Golborne of the right-leaning Independent Democratic Union (Unión Democrata Independiente) said that he rejected Bachelet’s plans for reform. Golborne, who served as a cabinet minister in the administration of current president Sebastián Piñera, added ‘we are not going to let what we fought for be destroyed in one term of office.’

World Health Organization places Chile in top 10 most obese nations

This week a report by the World Health Organization named Chile as the ninth most obese nation, with an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 27.8. The WHO considers BMIs between 18 and 24.9 to be healthy.

Roberto del Aguila of the Pan-American Health Organization told Chilean newspaper La Tercera that of all the world’s regions Latin America has the highest obesity rates, with Chile and Argentina leading the trend.

‘From the 1990s to now there has been a change in nutrition patterns, with increased consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods,’ del Aguila added.

Chile’s 2010 National Health Survey showed a 25% obesity rate. Incidence of diabetes in the nation grew by 3 percentage points between the 2006 and 2010 surveys.

Paula Margozzina, an academic in the Public Health Department of the Universidad Católica, said that obesity is often correlated with rapid economic development. Margozzina noted that the increase in the obesity rate is slowing, and should eventually level off.