Source: The Guardian Unlimited
For a whole year, a Chilean artist using the name Fried Potatoes (Papas Fritas) planned his revenge. Saying he was collecting material for an art project, the 31-year-old visual artist sneaked into a vault at a notorious private, run-for-profit university and quietly removed tuition contracts.
Fried Potatoes – whose real name is Francisco Tapia – then burned the documents, rendering it nearly impossible for the Universidad del Mar to call in its debt – which he claimed was worth as much as $500m (£297m). “It’s over. You are all free of debt,” he said in a five-minute video released earlier this month. Speaking to former students, he added: “You don’t have to pay a penny.”
Tapia’s move is just the most radical of a three-year campaign by students and children to demand free, improved public education. With monthly marches– and four former student leaders elected to parliament – the students have built a potent citizen’s movement rarely seen in post-Pinochet Chile.
This week, they claimed their biggest victory so far when the president, Michelle Bachelet, outlined a multibillion-dollar package of educational reforms and invesment. “Chile needs and the people have clamoured for this reform, which must transform quality education into a right,” Bachelet said at a bill-signing ceremony. Her proposals include an end to state subsidies to for-profit universities and schools, and – potentially – the introduction of free university education for all. While Bachelet spoke, students outside the congressional hall scattered ashes from the burned Universidad del Mar documents in symbolic protest against for-profit educational scams.