by Robert Hunziker
Robocop is not only a movie. It’s real life in Chile where grown men, disturbingly silly, dress up in armored uniforms, similar to the movie Robocop (Orion Pictures, 1987) bashing peaceful demonstrations of students wearing blue jeans.
Yes, they beat up and intimidate kids, which is a glaring example of a world gone mad! Ruled by horrifying neoliberal principles of financial domination, controlled by elitist, kicking the daylights out of teenagers. The whole affaire is simply one more example of the spirit of meanness from which neoliberal principles pit the elite class against all others.
Metaphorically, Robocops embody the elites fighting the working classes. Cowardly, in today’s world, the one percent elite no longer swing swords like their forefather patricians of medieval times; rather, they chicken-heartedly watch from afar whilst Robocops do the hard, sweaty, dangerous work in the streets, somewhat similar to Rome’s gladiator battles for public entertainment, as fat, slobbery aristocrats with double chins sit above the fray, chowing down on fresh grapes, fed by young blonde nymphs, plop-plop into gaping mouths.
Nowadays, time stands still in Santiago where harsh, brutal neoliberal policies took root decades ago, a lab project for the University of Chicago. The ghost of General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte still tantalizes, corrals, kills, and intimidates students, identical to Costa-Gavras’ audacious, meaningful 1982 film Missing, staring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, which directly implicates America’s CIA in a bloody plot to overthrow Salvador Allende, the first Marxist to become president in Latin America.
Salvador Allende’s presidential term (1970-73) was abruptly halted by suicide in the presidential palace in the midst of a military coup. For those who truly subscribe to the suicide story, there’s a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.
General Augusto Pinochet grabbed the reigns of power as quickly as President Allende’s head hit the floor. His first phone call was to Henry Kissinger followed by a quickie conference call with Milton Friedman, the father of the monetary school of economics at the University of Chicago, who quickly schooled the General in how to intentionally tilt the economy downwards, a steep recession, by way of monetary brakes.
Weakened economies always, always, always bring forth measures of austerity to stem the tide as weakness builds upon weakness amongst workers, whose world is sliced and diced apart at the seams. They take “the hit” for a more profitable and efficient economy on the other side of recession/depression. After all somebody’s gotta lose.
Chilean Students Oppose Neoliberalism- Again and Again
Chile’s youth know a rip-off when they see it, and Chile manifests oodles and oodles of rip-offs in favor of the country’s exclusive elites, the 1/10th of a percent. They own everything that has any value in the country, everything, the whole enchilada from pharmacies to gold mines.
Under General Pinochet’s dictatorship, modeled from afar by Friedman, Kissinger, et al, basic education was transferred from national to local governments. Free public university was outright abolished, as the preeminent University of Chile dismembered into regional units.
According to neoliberal adherents, like dictator Pinochet, the “market” determines value and rewards enterprise. In other words, don’t subsidize education. Let private schools figure out how best to educate youth. Profit will determine which universities should survive.
Under the General, Chile’s educational system morphed into “education apartheid.” Quality of education became dependent upon the resources of each municipality. Thus, poor municipalities got poor educational resources; rich municipalities got rich educational resources. This is how neoliberalism is supposed to work!
Pinochet’s educational reform also flourished amongst private schools that charged 70% of university students long-term bank loans, graduating with a ball and chain of debt wrapped around ankles for decades.
“To educate is to indebt” (Inés M. Pousadela).
Still, the students of Chile stand apart in the world. They are extraordinarily brave, street-wise, not afraid, and determined to overturn Pinochet neoliberal educational reforms. They hit the streets time and again. They’re fighters!
For example, the “Penguins’ Revolution” shook the streets with over 1,000,000 students demonstrating against a continuation of “neoliberal approach to education in the country” (source: Sean Seymore-Jones, Chile: When Students Rocked Santiago, Green Left Weekly, July 27, 2007).
According to Green Left Weekly, neoliberal attacks on education continued despite the election of Socialist Party Michelle Bachelet as president.
At issue: Poor school infrastructure because of Pinochet’s education measures, and pushback of entrance exam fees of $60 when minimum monthly wages in Chile are only $300. Student families cannot afford entrance exams with “slave wages” of $300/month, today’s equivalent to what American slave-owners of the 1850s expensed for room and board for slave holdings.
Associate Press: “A two-day strike culminated in a massive march that left a 16-year-old dead and close to 1,400 arrested in Chile, yesterday.” Student protestors chant comparisons of President Sebastian Pinera to former dictator Augusto Pinochet.
“It’s time to change the political system, the economic system, so there is a fairer redistribution of power and of wealth,” student leader Camila Vallejo told the BBC. “All this development model has done is make a few grossly rich.”
“Tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of Chile on Thursday in one of the largest demonstrations demanding free education,” Chilean Students Stage Widespread Protests Demanding Education Reform, Associated Press, April 11, 2013.
Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera focused on lower rates of student loans, but students claim the system fails with poor quality public schools, too expensive private universities, unprepared, poorly trained teachers, and unaffordable loans.
During the student takeover of the Santiago campus of Universidad del Mar, artist Francisco Tapia stole $500 million in student loan documents and burned the documents in an artistic display of disgust and forced loan forgiveness .
“University students in Chile have increasingly spoken out against profit-seeking schools,” Sara Gates, Chilean Artist Francisco Tapia Burns Financial Documents To ‘Free’ Students From Debt, Huffington Post, May 19, 2014.
“Student protests calling for education reforms in Chile erupted into violence Thursday when police tried to reroute the march… According to AFP, 117 people were arrested and 32 officers were injured in the clash… The upheaval follows months of frustration with President Michelle Bachelet who has yet to realize promises of free public and university education. Demonstrators paraded posters proclaiming, “We are tired of waiting” (Chile Student Protests Erupt Into Violence, Time/World, May 27, 2016).
For over one decade, Chile’s students have taken to the streets in protests of neoliberal educational policies that shift the burden for an education from the nation/state to individual students.
Henry A. Giroux sums up the neoliberal education quagmire thusly: “Public education is under assault by a host of religious, economic, ideological and political fundamentalists. The most serious attack is being waged by advocates of neoliberalism, whose reform efforts focus narrowly on high-stakes testing, traditional texts and memorization drills. At the heart of this approach is an aggressive attempt to disinvest in public schools, replace them with charter schools, and remove state and federal governments completely from public education in order to allow education to be organized and administered by market-driven forces,” (Henry A. Giroux: Can Democratic Education Survive in a Neoliberal Society? Truthout, Oct. 16, 2012).
Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if one searches hard enough. For example, Michael Moore’s new documentary film Where to Invade Next (2015) travels to Finland and Slovenia to discover education. College in Slovenia is free even for foreigners. In Finland students only attend classes for a few hours per day, no homework, and rank as the best qualified in the world. They speak three or four languages fluently, no rote learning and recess is as highly valued as coursework. One teacher told Mr. Moore: Students learn when they play, climb trees, find insects, discover fauna, explore flora; their curiosity is sparked. They learn via discovery when uninhibited by homework, which only serves to keep them confined to a pencil and a desk, missing the richness of the outside world.
Meanwhile, in Chile, which is touted by neoliberal elites as a beacon of successful neoliberal policies, the great majority of the people live on “slave wages” whilst their children battle in the streets for a decent education.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”), “Chile is the OECD country with the greatest difference between the rich and poor,” as well as the 4th poorest country of the 34 member states.
“Chile’s inequality is still among the highest in the world (its Gini coefficient is 52.1), and non-income dimensions of well-being, such as health and education, are also skewed in favor of the rich,” Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, et al, Can Education Reform Address Inequality and Middle Class Frustration? An Experiment in Chile,” Brookings, May 9, 2014.
According to Gonzalo Durán, an economist and researcher at Fundación Sol, a non-profit organization that focuses on labor issues, “90 percent of working Chileans make less than 650,000 pesos per month, totaling USD 1,300.” In other words, “Nine out of ten workers in Chile make less than the average minimum salary in developed countries.” (Source: Council on Hemispheric Affairs).
Nine out of ten workers, slave labor, in Chile make less than the average minimum salary in developed countries. This leaves one out of ten that makes a living wage thus removing them from the risk of slipping on a banana peel and falling into the pit of abject poverty.
Yet, the developed world is just crazy in love with the “miracle of Chile,” as expressed by Milton Friedman some years ago. The accolades are everywhere, ranked as a “high-income economy” by the World Bank. It is a role model for neoliberalism.
Nothing exposes the bitter narcissistic underbelly of neoliberal practitioners more so than educational policies directed against the best interests of students, against freedom of assembly, thereby totally abandoning the legacy of the Age of Enlightenment.
Still, Chilean students heroically fight the battle, going to the streets, proxies for free education.