Chilean Activist Burns $500 Million in Student Debt Papers

Chilean Activist Burns $500 Million in Student Debt Papers

A Chilean activist going by the name “Papas Fritas” (Fried Potatoes) is facing one to five years in prison for allegedly burning $500 million in debt papers belonging to a Chilean for-profit university and displaying the ashes as “art.” Papas Fritas confessed to burning them in a video.

The Santiago Times reports that police found the ashes on display at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center as part of an exhibition after a video in which Papas Fritas, whose real name is Francisco Tapia, confesses to “freeing” students of the debts he burned became an internet sensation. In the video, Papas Fritas declares to students, “you don’t have to pay another peso… We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor.”

Papas Fritas says in the video that he believes the seizure to be a work of art and that he had been working on hatching an artistic project that would reflect the problems of the nation.

The Washington Post notes that the papers were stolen from the Universidad del Mar during a “takeover” by students protesting student loans. Papas Fritas says in his video, however, that the students did not know that he would burn the papers when they overran the campus. Chilean police began to shut down the university for financial irregularities last year, but the shutdown had not resulted in student loans being forgiven.

The burning of the loans may not necessarily absolve the debts, either. According to the UK Independent, the university may not have the proper backup paperwork and will need to sue the students individually to retrieve the loans.

Chilean students have been staging protests against outrageous college debts throughout the year. According to the Associated Press, Chilean families often pay over 75% of the price of a college education, with very few financial aid resources to help those seeking higher education. In one protest in April 2013, tens of thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago, strengthened by the potential of an election year. The protests occasionally turned uncontrollably violent as leftist elements resorted to attacks against wealthy individuals in Chile.

Leftist President Michele Bachelet won that election, who ran on a platform of reforming the education system to provide more access for the poor. Bachelet announced this week reforms that she described as “the most significant educational reforms in Chile in the past fifty years.”