Piñera’s disgusting doubletalk on education

“I too am Inca…INCApable of governing!”

Anyone out there still think running a government like a business is a good idea? Then know this: A billionaire businessman is in charge of Chile, and the country is suffering badly under him. In particular, Chilean students are being robbed of their future by high-cost, low-quality education. But what’s really galling is Sebastián Piñera’s intelligence-insulting excuse for why an education in Chile costs so much while accomplishing so little:

This Monday, the 21st of May, the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, gave his third annual accounting before the Congress of the Nation, during which he ruled out making education free — a key demand of the student movement.

“We know that some are proposing free education for all, and not only those most vulnerable and the needy of the middle class. Frankly, in a country with so many shortages and inequalities as ours, it is neither just nor appropriate that the State, with the resources of all Chileans, finance the education of the most favored,” said Piñera.

Translation mine.

I can hear some of you starting up already: “But Bina, he’s saying education is free for those who can’t pay, and that only those who can pay should be charged for it! What’s so bad about that?”

Well, gee. When you put it that way…

Oh, who are we kidding here? You haven’t heard the rest of it yet. Here goes another gob of my translation:

The president urged the parliament to approve the legal projects handed down by the Executive, including educational reforms which include a new system of credits for university education, “available to all students with an annual interest rate of two percent,” said Piñera, adding that “this new system will be administered by the State, replacing the banks”.

Piñera also asked that the parliament approve the Tax Reform, opposed by the students, which will allow “the increase of the Education budget, scholarships, and the creation of education centres of excellence”. This reform implies that the annual tax revenue will increase from $700 million (US) to $1billion.

Did you get that? Higher taxes for what basically amounts to window dressing. And the State university credit system “replacing the banks”! How generous…except that the State can still charge 2% interest. Running education like a bank is not reform, it’s a step backward into usury. Hardly the stuff of which a robust public educational system is made!

And in case you’re wondering in what kind of atmosphere el señor presidente Piñera made these remarks:

The Chilean president gave his speech in the midst of strong protests outside the legislative assembly building, located in the central city of Valparaiso.

Chilean students and workers marched through the streets of Valparaiso, to congregate in front of the parliament building. The demonstration was convoked by the Chilean University Students’ Federation (FECH), the Unitary Workers’ Union (CUT), the National Association of Fiscal Workers (ANEF), and the Confederation of Copper Workers.

“We want to put an end to the political legacy of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which the Concertación government and that of President Piñera have continued,” said Gabriel Boric, the president of FECH, who spoke alongside the vice-president of the student organization, Camila Vallejo.

The demands of the demonstrators were all related to the theme of education, which as been the weak spot in Piñera’s administration. The student uprisings have demanded free, high-quality education.

The president of the College of Teachers, Jaime Gajardo, said that he urges Chile to advance in free education, for an end to lucre in the teaching system, and for the de-municipalization of high schools for the sake of creating less anarchy in the education of citizens.

The demonstrators also demand a salary raise in accordance with the high cost of living. The CUT is calling for a minimum salary of 250,000 pesos ($515 US), over the current rate of 182,000 pesos ($375 US).

So now you can see not only how poorly received Piñera’s proposals are, but also why. A tax increase but no salary increase? Interest on student tuition? Even the modest-sounding rate of 2% is going to squeeze an already stretched-to-the-limit average Chilean household budget to the breaking point. Students will be forced to abandon their education because they simply can’t afford it. And in an economy like Chile’s, which is highly resource-dependent, that spells bad news. There are only so many labor jobs to go around, and there too, there are shortages. (Piñera himself admitted as much earlier on, funnily enough. He even used the dreaded s-word!)

The only thing that can help to break this downward spiral of poverty is education…free, high-quality education, the very kind the Chilean student demonstrators, who are of high-school and university age, are demanding. And the very thing which Piñera, from his out-of-touch viewpoint as a transplanted business executive, is so slow to understand.

The only heartening thing about this whole sorry mess is that the students and workers aren’t taking any of it lying down. Much like their counterparts in Québec, they are determined to stay a thorn in an unpopular leader’s flesh, even at this hard time:

Meanwhile, in the central-southern city of Concepción, regional social organizations staged a march and speeches of their own in the Plaza de la Independencia, calling it “Cuenta Pública Popular” (Popular Public Accounting). The project reflects the joint work of all the social movements of the zone.

“The most important thing we can emphasize is the founding of a working round table of unionists, students and general population. We expect to meet again on May 26, in order to start empowering a referent together, and to lay down political lines,” announced the president of the student federation of the University of Concepción, Recaredo Gálvez, who accuses the Chilean government of governing for the business sector and the permanence of the ruling class.

“The Government remains a slave of the market, remains at the service of the big business owners, and this is what we are going to show. We already know that the Government is completely incapable of handing down any kind of solution, so now we have to unmask the business interests who are behind it, who are generating oppression and labor repression. It also generates accumulation in the sectors of education, housing and health, and those are the ones that have to be exposed to all public opinion in light of what we’re doing,” Gálvez added.

And if you think they’re up against anything insurmountable, the last paragraph is the kicker:

Sebastián Piñera’s popularity rating remains at the lowest levels of any Chilean president since the return to democracy in 1990, according to the latest survey results published by Adimark. Only 26% of Chileans support the presidency of Piñera.

No doubt those 26% are all from the traditional ruling class of Chile. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the middle and working classes supporting a man who is out to rob them all in the name of running Chile like a business!

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