Students in Brazil protest for increased education funding

Friday, September 2, 2011

BRASILIA -- Inspired by huge protests in Chile, thousands of Brazilian students took to streets outside the seat of government Wednesday demanding that at least 10 percent of gross domestic product be spent on education.

Some 2,500 Brazilians rallied in the capital, chanting “Chile, friend, Brazil is with you!” outside the Central Bank building, as protesters emptied a water truck in a symbolic “cleansing” of corruption, and a delegation was received by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Hundreds of thousands have demonstrated across nearby Chile in recent months — sometimes clashing violently with police — as students there demand far-reaching education reforms.

Many Chileans have dismissed the government's latest plan to resolve the crisis, which last week climaxed with a 48-hour general strike.

In a show of support for the Brazilian movement, University of Chile student union president Camila Vallejo, one of the protest leaders in Santiago, addressed the demonstrators in Brasilia.

“We want to reaffirm the unity of student movements in Chile, in Brazil, and throughout Lain America,” Vallejo, 23, said.

Brazilian Julia Vasconcelos, a 21-year-old civil engineering student, waved a Chilean flag at the protest.

“We support the struggle of the Chileans, and hope that their efforts influence the consciousness movement here in Brazil,” she told AFP.

In booming Brazil, the economic engine of South America, expansion and improvement of the education system is considered vital for a nation desperate to boost the number of its skilled workers, particularly as it builds up its infrastructure ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

The demonstration coincides with the development in Brazil of a new 10-year national education plan, and student protesters hope the plan gets sufficient attention in Congress when it comes up for debate.

“Public education in Brazil is bad. We do not have the same opportunities as students in private schools,” lamented Natalia, an 18-year-old student.

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