Chilean high school and university students are currently involved in a mighty struggle against their government’s unfair and inequitable privatized education policies, which date back to the neoliberal “reforms” of the Pinochet era, and their struggle has been going on for a very long time, as this woman’s own struggle makes clear. After all, she is still a student herself. So it makes all the sense in the world that she would join the current fight:
About 200 people joined the protests for a free, good-quality education at the doors of the Chilean consulate in Montréal, Canada. In spite of the cloudy afternoon, the shouts of the Chileans could be heard loud and clear in the heart of the city. Among them was Carmen Gloria Quintana, a student whose history was marked with fire by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
On July 2, 1986, Carmen, 18 years old at the time, was burned during a day of protests against the Pinochet régime, along with photographer Rodrigo Rojas Denegri. He died, but she survived despite having burns over 65% of her body.
“We all have the right to an education of quality, no matter if you are rich or poor,” read the sign she carried in her hands yesterday. She was accompanied by her husband and three daughters, with whom she has been living in the city for a year, studying toward a doctorate in clinical psychology of children and adolescents in the University of Montréal.
“Enough of this shameful apartheid we Chileans are living. Enough of the lucre of the big business class. This struggle aimes at the bases in which the Chilean neoliberal model is sustained. A country which thinks it is developed and in which the business class pays the lowest income taxes in the world, cannot develop itself with equality. I profoundly support the students and I embrace them with great joy. At last we have the hope that things will really change, and not just be glossed over,” she said.
This is one of the many demonstrations which have taken place all over the world in support of student demands.
One of the organizers of the Montréal demonstration, María Poblete, stated that the demonstration was in rejection of the “repression and violence against demonstrators. We want to demonstrate that it is possible to demonstrate peacefully.”
Since she and I are about the same age, Carmen Quintana’s terrible story resonated strongly with me when I first read it, around the time I was growing up and heading to university. It is also a stark reminder that the battle for a better world is long and hard, and spans generations. And that sometimes, you literally get burned, and literally suffer a trial by fire, to get to where you want your world to go.
It heartens me no end to see that Carmen is still alive and kicking, and that Pinochet, whose men burned her alive, is dead and reviled, as he deserves to be.
La lucha sigue…