As students in the City of Buenos Aires begin the fifth week of occupation in their high schools in protest of the city government’s educational reform project, the controversy is spending much more time under the national spotlight and has become yet another issue dividing the public opinion.
During the weekend and Monday morning, political leaders across the political spectrum continued weighing in on the subject, and you won’t believe who took each side – yes, there are always to sides in diametrical opposition. Just kidding, you definitely can. Representatives of the national and city governments on the one hand, and a part of the opposition, led by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on the other.
After Judge Elena Liberatori ruled last week that students are using their constitutional rights when they occupy the schools – therefore preventing the government from instructing school authorities from resorting to police to evict them, should they decide to do so – Justice Minister Germán Garavano came out to say that occupations are “illegal,” and something he “repudiates.”
“There are other ways to protest and create dialogue. The occupations that cause the students to miss class is not the way, because it’s detrimental to thousands of their fellow students [who don’t argue with the method or the protest overall],” he said in a radio interview.
Regarding the judge’s decision, Garavano said that “she has issued several similar rulings, which I don’t agree with. I think it’s wrong because it’s not about forcefully evicting the students, but dealing with something illegal, irregular.”
Students are mainly protesting against the reform’s intention to have fifth year students – the last one in City high schools – spend “50 percent of their time applying what they learned in businesses and organizations, based on their talents and interests.” They argue that in fact this is a cover to provide companies free labor, which on top of everything will take studying time from them.
High school representatives met with Education Minister Soledad Acuña last week, but any intention to reach middle ground proved unfruitful. There’s no talk about them agreeing to another meeting.
Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sided with this argument. Last Friday, she weighed in on the subject and encouraged students to fight for what they consider right, arguing that “everyone has a right to express their views.” “You don’t have to say yes to everything, it’s not democratic, and I tell you that from the bottom of my heart, don’t let yourselves be pushed over, because they [the government] will try to,” she added.
At a rally in Ensenada the former President went on to say that “they will want you to make mistakes, because then they will aim at criminalizing young people, those who think different, the dissidents.” “Overall, they don’t want people think at all,” she said.
“You don’t need anyone to teach you, you can teach everyone. Don’t doubt that you’re invincible,” the former President concluded.
However, the government, along with high school authorities that remain occupied, are taking another path to end this situation, which they argue most students do not agree with. Following formal accusations from school authorities, a legal process has began to determine whether the students’ actions constitute a criminal offense: usurpation of public buildings.
In a radio interview, the prosecutor in charge of the case, Carlos Fel Rolero Santurian, said there’s also a possibility that the students’ parents be considered legally responsible for their children’s actions. “16 and 17 year olds can be charged with usurpation. And that obviously means that parents can be responsible for their children’s actions,” he said.
Students in most schools will hold assemblies to determine their next steps today. It’s likely they will continue with the occupation at least today, considering that a group of representatives from different institutions will hold a press conference tomorrow to further express their criticism to the reform.
Another controversial aspect of the initiative is the fact that it wasn’t debated in the legislature, but will be implemented through an administrative resolution. City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Education Minister Soledad Acuña ratified their intention to implement the reform in 16 public schools next year, and gradually extend it to all institutions during the next school periods.