17/05/2014 12:24 BST | Updated 20/05/2014 11:59 BST

Chilean Activist And Artist, Francisco Tapia, 'Sets Fire To $500m Worth Of Student Papers To Try And Free Hundreds From Debt'

A heap of ashes is allegedly all that remains of $500 million in “pagarés” — or debt papers — stolen and burned by a Chilean activist.

A video by Francisco Tapia, aka “Papas Fritas,” went viral this week in which he confessed to burning the legal papers certifying debt owed by Universidad del Mar students and had thus liberated the students from their debt obligations.

“It’s over, it’s finished,” Tapia said in his impassioned five minute video, the Santiago Time reported. “You don’t have to pay another peso [of your student loan debt]. We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor. I am just like you, living a shitty life, and I live it day by day — this is my act of love for you.”

The university is still collecting on its student loans, but not without great difficulty.

The destruction of the documents occurred during a “toma” — student takeover — of the campus and means the embattled university owners must now individually sue each of its students to assure debt payment — a very costly, time-consuming process, the paper reported.

Tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of Chile last year, demanding education reform. Now, it seems, tensions are escalating once again.

During an intense campaign that ended in a landslide victory in December, President Michelle Bachelet promised free university-level education and to end state subsidies for private, for-profit colleges, which have put higher education out of reach of the poor.

But students on Thursday — in their first protest since Bachelet took office — repeated the same demands they had rallied for over the past three years, leery of what they fear is their requests not being met.

Around 40,000 people participated in the protest, police said, while organisers of the march, which brought together university and school students, said there were more than 100,000 participants.

Chile's higher education burden is the toughest of nearly any nation surveyed by the multi-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or the OECD.

While families in Scandinavian countries pay less than 5 percent of the costs and U.S. families pay more than 40 percent, Chilean households must pay more than 75% from their own pockets.

The government's share has been enough to provide only the brightest and poorest students with scholarships and grants.