'68 is only a memory
Almost three months ago, I witnessed an event that truly describes the situation of the students in my country. The elections for the director of the Federation of Students were happening at the Universidad Católica de Chile, one of our two more prestigious universities. I stop to clarify that this University, where I study, is characterized by an extreme conservatism. Because the economic right, to a large extent, controls many of the most important Chilean companies, the graduates of my university were and are the most fervent followers of the neoliberal policy imposed by the dictatorship of Pinochet. Indeed, the rightist tradition has obtained year after year the support of the Federation of Students, with some exceptions. For this year, we wanted to teach a lesson and we tried to register a left list using a name that has been traditionally used by the right (a child’s game, perhaps) to prove that the students’ vote is conditional upon a name and not on a concrete platform that satisfies their needs. We were able to obtain the necessary signatures to register this list–two hundred–at the last moment, because it is still feared in Chile to say “I am of the left.” We went to the inscription place and received our ballot sheets, thinking we had already won. Hours later, I received the news that it had not been possible to register our list because, mysteriously, a page with names had disappeared and therefore, we did not fulfill the minimum signature requirement. There was no other copy of those wrinkled pages that we thought would serve to wake up the lethargy of the students of the Universidad Católica, and with empty hands and impotent faces, we saw, once again that the right, with almost sixty percent of the votes, took control of the power in the Federation of Students.
While writing this anecdote, I realized that in many other places of Chile, similar events often occur. I believe that after the arrival of democracy in Chile, we students are no longer valuable interlocutors. Over thirty years ago, student organizations were solid, conscientious and applied in their objectives. Today, on the contrary, student leaders are not more than the germ of future political leaders, the political parties use them to extend their increasingly fragile bases of support. The streets are the scene of violent manifestations repressed like in the most severe years of dictatorship, but, in addition, I see with frustration that the young people who march do not know why they do it, nor know if they want to really do it. The voice of the students becomes the voice of the young people, a voice that is not heard in the middle of the applause for the Free Trade Agreement, nor in the discussions about the next president of Chile. There’s a lack of valid reference points to encourage students to organize themselves and work toward a common cause.
I dare to say that nowadays, a solid student movement in Chile does not exist. The ideas of change, university reform and education for everyone are stuck in the middle of the generalized apathy that young people feel about these policies. The problem is that we who really felt the necessity to create a student group resurgence were lost in the same networks which we want eliminated. I can only hope that more sooner than later the great tree-lined avenues are witness to mobilized students with new objectives of solidarity, hope and change.
Cecilia Riveros Romero is a history student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.