What is happening in Chile is not about 30 pesos, this much is clear. The rise in the Metro fare was the detonator, the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the protesters have expressed on more than one occasion. One of the highest fares for public transport in the OECD combined with one of the lowest salary levels is a disaster waiting to happen.
But, essentially, this was not the only price increase: electricity bills rose, basic commodities have been overpriced by collusion between private businesses that have thus far only resulted in derisory fines, and the cost of living is very high in general.
The question therefore, is not why things exploded now, but why they didn’t explode before. What has occurred is a combination of accumulated abuse and the complete ineptitude of the government. In fact, the executive stoked the fire after the Metro fare hike. First, government ministers insulted those harmed by the fare increase, demonstrating that they live in another world entirely, saying things like romantic people can now buy flowers, because they are cheaper (compared to the general rise in cost of most products) and that they should get up earlier, because they could avoid the higher Metro fare if they traveled earlier.
Second, confronted by the fare evasion protests organized by the high school students, they responded by militarizing the Metro stations, repressing and violating the rights of citizens indiscriminately. It would seem that someone in the government thought that by completely closing the Metro on Friday, public opinion would sway against the students. On the contrary, the citizens literally became enraged and joined the demonstrations.
What could better prove the failure of our democratic state than the government’s inability to find a political solution and instead calling on the military?
And with that, the explosion was consolidated. The response of the government: Declaring a State of Emergency and transferring control of the situation to the military. What could better prove the failure of our democratic state than the government’s inability to find a political solution and instead calling on the military?
Using civil disobedience to justify the curfew and the complete lack of inhibition of the military on the streets? The result has been the nationalization of the mobilization, 19 dead, hundreds injured, harassment and humiliation, Metro stations completely destroyed, looting and a complete lack of governance.
The most severe human right's violations have been under the State of Emergency, demonstrating its complete failure. At this stage, it seems clear that transforming this profound discontent into a matter of public order has had a rather counterproductive effect. The failure of the repressive response by the government is in turn the expression of the institutional legitimacy crisis that is nothing new in the region.
With what authority could the President of the Republic, a notorious tax evader, accuse young subway fare evaders of being criminals? And what about the Congress? So far, the timid attempts at social reform through laws enacted by Congress have been halted in the Constitutional Court. Moreover, entrepreneurs have recently asserted their veto power, enumerating the matters that cannot be legislated, which, we can surmise, are consistent with the wishes expressed on the streets.
The same protesters ask themselves why there has to be an explosion for them to listen to us?
The same protesters ask themselves why there has to be an explosion for them to listen to us? The institutional framework has become insensitive to social demands, stretching the elastic to its limit. Unions have been weakened (whilst in Congress they were waiting to process projects that would castrate them even more), the social organizations that have, until now, managed to articulate dissent have been criminalized and sentenced to irrelevance. In these conditions, what could be expected but a sweeping explosion, inorganic, and as such, uncontrollable?
The authorities seek to return to normality, but we cannot go back to what was previously considered normal: widespread abuse in pricing and privatisation of pensions, healthcare, and education. Chile doesn’t need to rebuild, it needs to be restructured. Today, our model is based on abuse, indebtedness, and inequality. We must build new foundations, create a new normal, set new rules for the social pact. We must build a democracy that doesn’t fear the cries of its people, but rather, is the expression of the people.