Chilean students held marches in Santiago and about a dozen other cities on April 11 to step up their two-year campaign for free, high-quality education to replace the heavily privatized system that started during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. While the first march of the new school year, on March 28, drew about 20,000 people, some 150,000 participated in Santiago alone on April 11, according to organizers; the authorities put the number at 80,000. Local media said this was one of the largest marches in the capital in two decades. As usual, small groups confronted the police—109 arrests were reported—but in general the march was described as peaceful and even festive.
As of April 1 the Environmental Evaluation Service of Atacama, a region in northern Chile, had imposed a new fine on the Chilean subsidiary of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for violations at its Pascua Lama facility, a giant open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile. The fine on the subsidiary, the Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, came to about US$85,509 (expressed as 1,000 Monthly Tax Units, UTM, a special unit Chile uses for mining taxes and fines; it is set this month at 40,125 pesos). This was in addition to a US$256,518 (3,000 UTM) fine the service imposed a month earlier. According to Pedro Lagos, Atacama's regional minister for the environment, the fines are for the company's failure to meet requirements for monitoring damage the mine's construction could cause to nearby glaciers.
An estimated 20,000 Chilean secondary and university students marched through downtown Santiago on March 28 to call for free, high-quality education. This was the first major student demonstration of the new school year, continuing a series of demonstrations that started in 2011 to protest the privatization of secondary and higher education that started during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. At their high point in 2011 the marches brought hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and supporters to the streets and dramatically lowered the approval rating of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera; these were the largest demonstrations in Chile since the end of military rule.
After a meeting on March 21 in Temuco, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, indigenous leaders called for the rapid implementation of self-government for the Mapuche, the country's largest indigenous group. The leaders also repeated their rejection of plans announced by the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera for an indigenous council, a consultation process and a special law for Araucanía. Piñera, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and other officials made the proposals in January after an outbreak of violence in the region exacerbated a longstanding struggle between the Mapuche and settlers and forestry companies over lands that the Mapuche claim. Indigenous leaders responded to Piñera's proposal by holding a summit at the Cerro Ñielol park in Temuco on Jan. 16 and forming a new alliance, the Mapuche Pact for Self-Determination.
On March 13 a federal magistrate judge in Columbus, Georgia, sentenced Robert Norman "Nashua" Chantal to a six-month prison term for trespassing on the US Army's Fort Benning base during a protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), on Nov. 18. SOA Watch, an organization that has sponsored protests at the base each November since 1990, opposes the US Army's training of Latin American soldiers, charging that SOA graduates have been among the region's most notorious human rights violators.
A court in Argentina on March 12 sentenced the country's last military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his rule in 1982 and '83. The 85-year-old former general, already serving three other terms for similar crimes, was found guilty of killings related to Operation Condor—a coordinated campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to eliminate dissidents from one country who sought refuge in another. Federal Oral Tribunal Federal No. 1 in San Martín found Bignone culpable in the deaths of 23 victims, including seven pregnant women, who were abducted to the now-notorious Campo de Mayo clandestine prison. Also receiving a life term was Bignone's armed forces chief and second-in-command as dictator, Santiago Omar Riveros. Three other military men received terms of between 12 and 15 years. (Argentina Independent, Rebelión, Digital Journal, March 13; BBC News, La Nación, Clarín, Gente BA, Prensa Latina, March 12)
As of March 2 the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel was calling for dialogue with indigenous Mapuche communities in Valdivia province in Chile's southern Los Ríos region in an effort to get clearance for the consortium's stalled $781 million hydroelectric project at Lake Neltume. The dialogue offer came in response to reservations that Los Ríos public service agencies expressed about the power company's latest proposal for the plant. Jorge Weke (also spelled "Hueque")—the werkén (spokesperson) for the Koz Koz Parliament in Panguipulli, a municipality that would be affected by the dam—rejected the dialogue offer, saying the company didn't understand the project's significance for the Mapuche.
Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) had plans to foment violence and declare a state of emergency if he lost an Oct. 5, 1988 plebiscite on his regime, according to declassified US documents that the DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Feb. 22. The plebiscite, mandated by Pinochet's own 1980 Constitution, gave Chileans a choice between voting "yes" to have the general remain president for eight more years or "no" to end the dictatorship and hold an election in 1989. The "no" option won by 54.7% to 43% for "yes"; some 98% of eligible voters participated.