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I spent almost all yesterday walking along the main streets of Valparaiso searching this that and the other, and while it was sunny and nice, I could not help noticing some stirring in the air.

For some reason I had got in my head that getting a Chilean identity card would be a piece of cake, and I thought it would be something cool and useful to have, so I went to the civil registry office (or whatever it is called) to get instructions. There a very nice young man told me with a wide smile on his face that I have to take copies of my passport and the entrance document, then go to the PDI (Policia de Investigaciones) – for some reason I did not quite get just then – and, because the office was about to close at 2 pm, return the next morning to carry on with the identity card application process. Off I went looking for the PDI, having the copies taken in the first photo-copying shop I found (and there are many of them in Chile, for some reason), intending to also purchase a prepaid phone account and suntan lotion on my way.

That quest took me longer than I expected and made me walk back and forth the main avenues, during which I passed the same places many times and saw how people prepared to march, gathering in the parks and squares to paint banners for free, equal, and better quality education on all levels, beginning to shout slogans, carrying flags and poles with banners wrapped around them, some young ones in school uniforms, some adults of different ages, all very ordinary looking people.

Students gathered in Plaza Victoria

I saw many more vans of the carabineros than usual patrolling the streets, and I saw army green riot vehicles enter the scene and surround Plaza Victoria – which seemed to be one of the gathering points for the march – some of them marked with paint splashes, presumably from earlier marches, some of them, the bigger ones with tanks (called “guanacos” here, I was told later, for spitting dirty water, and the ones squirting tear gas are called “zorillos”, skunks), overflowing with water, leaking on the street. I also saw from distance – with many other bystanders on the streetside, some equipped with gas masks and big cameras – how the riot police (or was it the army?) started using their devices, water and tear gas, how people escaped running away from the park along the Condell avenue, and how, as they advanced with the sirens howling on their heels, the shopkeepers dropped their window blinds and closed their shops.

I nevertheless carried on with my search for the PDI through the commotion, taking a picture or two for the record, and on the way even managed to walk past the premises of the Carabineros of Valparaiso and pop into their office to make inquiries. The streets outside the key points were very peaceful, as were the streets blocked by the riot vehicles.

In the end, I did find the PDI, where I was guided to knock on the door of the International affairs office and then walk in. Again, a very nice young man appeared from the back of the long, empty, dingy office and came to my aid, this time to tell me that it wasn’t quite so simple to get an identity card as I had reckoned, in fact, the process would invariably take four months. But he gave me some name and address, so that I could start the process, and next time I’d come to Chile I would have both the card and a visa for a longer stay…

On my way back to my hotel (hungry and in a hurry to get ready to go wall climbing, but content with my new suntan lotion and my new chilean prepaid) I chose the wrong avenue and succeeded in inhaling some tear gas (big auch, I don’t recommend!!) remaining in the air after the riot police had used it to disperse the demonstration for educational reform.

Such demonstrations have been going on for months all around Chile, and these people – students, teachers, scholars, parents, all sorts – seem quite determined to reach their goal. But why is there so little about it on the Finnish news? Is it because the big rocks called Andes block the view, or because our government discreetly veers to the opposite direction?

(See also TheGuardian: Students marching for a better Chile)

"Now more than ever we demand gratuity, quality and integration in education"