Every day we are witnessing the kindled spirit of the youth across the world. Political autonomy, corruption, powerlessness, poor economies, climate change and social media seem to be the chief contributors to the mass protest rage that has taken over. The large anti-government demonstrations have not been peaceful, with the number of human losses increasing as every day goes by. From Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan and more, the story seems to be the same: voices that were never heard are gathering together for a scream to bring about a much-needed change! Does it mean the people’s voice will finally be heard?
In this particular article, Editor Deepthi Suresh helps us to understand recent developments in Chile.
How did this start?
The protests began in October 2019 due to an increase in subway fares by 3%, and soon paved the way to widespread vandalism, destruction and looting. The fare hike has definitely triggered the public after years of “rising cost of living, miserable pensions, relatively low wages, deficient health and education systems and costly and inefficient public utilities,” according to a report by the New York Times. These demonstrations are Chile’s worst unrest in decades. The protests have transformed into a nationwide uprising with the protesters demanding dramatic changes to the country’s economic and political system and the ultimate demand of the resignation of Chilean President Piñera. As of December 2019, 29 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested and the number only seems to rise.
According to Victor Villegas, a sociologist at Santiago’s Alberto Hurtado University, “it’s not a coincidence that the movement began with high school students because they have always driven Chilean social movements”. As police attempted to forcefully stop the students at the stations, the protests had already begun to spread out into the streets. Metro stations, supermarkets, and petrol stations were burned, leading Piñera to declare a state of emergency.
Although the leaderless movement has forced the billionaire president to be on the defensive, which resulted in him replacing eight ministers and the announcement of emergency measures including a small increase in the minimum wage and higher taxes on wealthy Chileans, the protests have continued.
What are the protesters’ demands?
The protesters have called for a change in the pension system and a measurable like in the minimum wage in addition to Piñera’s resignation. Piñera has addressed the demands in his reform plans but the protestors are furious that these proposals would cost the state, rather than the private industries. There have also been demands for a new constitution as the current one was drafted during the dictatorship.
Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters. Human Rights Watch director Jose Miguel Vivanco stated that “indiscriminate and improper use of riot guns and shotguns, abuse of detainees in custody, and poor internal accountability systems” gave rise to serious violations of the rights of many Chileans.
The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP25, with thousands of world leaders and government officials attending, was supposed to take place in Chile in December but had to be cancelled due to the protests. Ironically, the focus of this particular climate change conference was economic and social inequality.
The government has scrapped the subway fare increase and the president said that he is mindful of the broader grievances that fueled the unrest. He is, however, yet to outline a comprehensive set of policies. It seems that Piñera is finding it difficult to come to grips with reality and the population’s frustrations. It looks like the protests will continue until he steps down.
Photo by Carlos Figueroa
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