Only a week after the huge mobilizations in Ecuador that successfully toppled the controversial ‘paquetazo’, the financial plan imposed on the South American nation by the International Monetary Fund, another Latin American country has risen up against the economic policies of its government.
In a country where the minimum wage of 70% of the population barely reaches $700 USD per month, the news from Chilean president Piñera last week that the fare for a metro ticket in Santiago would rise from 800 Chilean Pesos to 830 ($1.15 USD) hit hard. Chile, a nation with a long history of neoliberalism, has been unable to eradicate poverty with privatisation policies, and it is estimated that around 36% of the urban population live in extreme poverty.
The supposed “economic miracle” of Chile, which received its name from American economist Milton Friedman, was a set of liberalising economic measures put in place during the dictatorship of Pinochet, that imposed a free market in the country with the support from the United States. This economic system, that continues to be implemented today in Chile, has benefitted the economic elites whilst creating inequality and suffering for the majority. It’s hardly surprising that thanks to these neoliberal reforms promoted by Friedman, the 90s became the lost decade of Latin America.
Tired of the economic policies of the government, students and citizens took to the streets of Chile to protest against the rise in price of the metro ticket, but in reality this was just the tip of the iceberg. They are in fact protesting against many other social issues such as high tariffs for electricity and gas, low pensions, and a completely unaffordable health and education system. Protesters burnt metro stations and public busses, and they looted supermarkets and public buildings.
When Piñera spoke to the nation on Saturday evening to declare the suspension of the increase in metro fare, it was already too late to contain the fury that had been unleashed. Students and young people kept marching and demanding justice, whilst the government declared a State of Emergency and sent the army to the streets.
That’s why we explain to you everything you need to know about the current protests in Chile and why this explosion of violence is so important in the region.
Police violence and democracy in Chile
It’s not the first time that police use violence against their own citizens in Chile, a country which has a long history of repression of the mapuche indigenous communities when they rise up against the lack of government recognition of their territorial rights.
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