The Chilean Protests

By — Sally Bermudez

Violent protests in the South American country Chile has erupted in response to the government increasing the costs of living, increased Metro de Santiago subway fare, and a wider gap between the rich and the poor in the country. Under President Sebastián Piñera’s administration there was a 9.2% increase in electricity and a 4% increase in subway fares which has led to the temporary suspension of the subway system in Santiago. Piñera has officially announced a state of emergency and has tried restricting the rights to assembly and movement. He tried backing up this movement by saying it was for, “the security of the residents, protecting goods and the rights of each one of our compatriots who have seen complications from the actions of true criminals.” Piñera enforced a curfew from 10pm to 6am, but then later made the curfew start at 7pm as the death tolls kept rising. 

As many as 500 people have been injured, and 2,000 people have been detained by the Chilean police. The police have reportedly fought back with a numerous amount of teargas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. The UN has decided to send a team to Chile after seeing the violent protests to investigate.

As an attempt to diffuse the current protests in Chile, Piñera has replaced his entire cabinet. He decided it was a good idea to do this because he wanted the chance to have an open dialogue and justice to resolve this issue. He replaced the positions of The Minister of Interior, Finance and Labor, and Secretariat of Presidency. Piñera has also promised social and economic reforms to stabilize the economy, including affordable medical insurance, lowering the prices of medicine and stabilizing electricity prices which will affect “almost 7 million Chilean households.” He thought that these promises would diffuse the protests, but the people of Chile don’t believe him and continue to fight on the streets of Santiago.

Catherine Paz, the head of the language department, and a spanish teacher at Tuscarora High School, had a couple things to say reflecting the recent protests. Having lived there for a couple years, I asked her a couple of questions regarding the current situation.

Bermudez: Since you lived there for a while, would you agree that there is in fact social and economic inequality in the country of Chile?

Paz: Absolutely. There is a stark divide between the upper and lower social classes in Chile. The income, education, healthcare, and retirement of the lower classes and people making minimum wage is generally so insufficient that people cannot make ends meet on a monthly basis and typically, can never retire. While I lived there, the disparities were all too obvious to me on a daily basis and in many different ways from the resources available to people, schools, hospitals, etc.

Bermudez What is your opinion on what’s happening? 

Paz: ​It is very sad and shocking to see a place I lived go through this protest. It’s scary to see the metro stop that I used to use everyday near my apartment basically destroyed and in flames. I am also sad when I hear my friends who still live there talking about the desperation they are seeing in the people around them who are protesting. However, I am also not surprised that it is happening. This discontent has been bubbling under the surface for a long time and I think that it is a good thing that, now, with international attention being called to it, hopefully conversations will open up between citizens and the government about how to improve the situation. I obviously do not agree with some of the violence that has happened but I do think this is a national conversation that Chile does need to have.

Bermudez: Do you think these violent protests are going to get the outcome that the protesters are expecting? 

Paz: The outcome that the protesters are looking for is for something to happen immediately on all fronts to ensure greater equality (education, healthcare, retirement, etc.) but I do not think they will get everything that they want immediately. I do think that the government will begin more earnest work on this issue but it will probably not be to the degree that the protesters are hoping for. In fact, the government has already rescinded the raise of the tariff on metro fares which is what sparked this protest but this is just a drop of water in the bucket. Unfortunately with everything that the protesters want, it is going to take time.

Bermudez: Do you think that this situation could’ve been handled differently?

Paz: Absolutely. Part of the reason for the intense protesting now is because there has been discontent building up in the Chilean economy and society for the last several decades since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship where the initial division in social classes became more intense. Over these last few decades, there was not much the government did to resolve some of the social and economic disparities and so it those inequalities have now passed on to a new generation and become a bigger problem. If more had been done immediately when the democracy began and had work continued throughout these decades, I don’t think this protest would have happened in this way.

Bermudez:  If these people hadn’t started a protest, do you think that the inequality with the economy would have ever changed? 

Paz: ​Probably not. It can be very difficult to affect change on a national level. Also, in Chile’s case, many of those who work in the government are also part of the upper classes and therefore, not as impacted by some of the inequalities (check out the President and diplomat salaries compared to the minimum wage…42.5 times as much!). I think that, even with the current protests, it is still going to take time to resolve the problems in the economy but at least these recent events open the door for it to be a topic of discussion so the country can hopefully move forward.