Chilean Government Using Violence to Discourage Rising Protests4 min read

Amnesty International, an organization dedicated to the investigation of human rights violations, released a report earlier this week that accused the Chilean security forces of deliberately using excessive force to deter further protests. 

The demonstrations in Chile began in mid-October in reaction to an increase in public transport fees. Compared to other economically developed nations, Chile holds some of the highest levels of financial inequality. The state received a Gini Index score of 0.46, with a score of 1 being totally unequal and 0 as completely equal, and a 2017 government survey revealed that the richest 20% earned 8.9 times more than the poorest 20% (“Chile Protests”). The decision to raise the public transport fees was seemingly the final straw. Protestors are now demanding a more equal society and for the state to guarantee rights to healthcare, quality education, water, and social security. Furthermore, the protestors want to modernize the Chilean constitution. Written in 1980 under former President Augusto Pinochet, the protestors view the document as “a hangover from the time of military rule with its trust in neoliberal economics and Catholic values” (“Chile”). Current President Sebastián Piñera has conceded that “if the people want it, we will move toward a new constitution, the first under a democracy” (“Chile”). However, Piñera and his security forces seem more inclined to violently suppress the protestors than give in to their demands. According to the National Human Rights Institute, more than 2,300 protestors have been injured, including more than 200 cases of severe eye injuries caused by rubber bullets, and at least five protestors have died. 

The report from Amnesty International accuses the Chilean regime of using strategic violence to prohibit future protests. Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, detailed the human rights violations in her report: 

The intention of the Chilean security forces is clear: to injure demonstrators in order to discourage protest, even to the extent of using torture and sexual violence against protesters. Instead of taking measures to curb the very grave human rights crisis, the authorities, under the command of President Sebastián Piñera, have pursued a policy of punishment for over a month, adding yet more people to the staggering number of victims, which is continuing to rise to this day. (Amnesty International).

The report surrounding the current events in Chile delegitimizes the state’s regime. By resorting to violence, the regime has lost the support of the people. The protestors will most likely use this report and future evidence of government maltreatment as motivation. What began as a problem over public transport fees has now exploded, thanks, in part, to the violent response of the government, to a state on the cusp of widespread revolt.   

There are many aspects of this current event that relate to what we have studied earlier this semester: the dangers of inequality towards a democracy, civil society and protests, and how regimes approach threats to their internal sovereignty. This is not the first instance of an administration attempting to use violence to suppress civil unrest either. Earlier in this course, we studied the events of the Arab Spring. These past uprisings somewhat parallel the current demonstrations in Chile, although Chile is a democracy while the states involved in the Arab Spring were authoritarian, as both sets of protestors were fighting for greater rights. By looking back at the results of the Arab Spring, we can see that many of the states that used extreme force, such as Tunisia and Egypt, fell (Yom). While the circumstances are different, the results of the Arab Spring suggest that violence is not a sufficient way to quell civil unrest; contrarily, it may even add fuel to the fire and further motivate the protestors. A better strategy may come in the form of political compromises. By listening to the protestors and mildly giving in to their demands, a government can maintain, strengthen its legitimacy by not resorting to violence against its people. What are some other tools that a regime could use when facing threats to its internal sovereignty, and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each tool? Can the current Chilean administration survive this report or is it already too late?   

Bibliography

“Amnesty International: Chile Using Violence as a Deterrent.” BBC News, BBC, 21 Nov. 2019.

“Chile Protests: Is Inequality Becoming Worse?” BBC News, BBC, 21 Oct. 2019.

“Chile: Deliberate Policy to Injure Protesters Points to Responsibility of Those in Command.” Chile: Deliberate Policy to Injure Protesters Points to Responsibility of Those in Command | Amnesty International, 21 Nov. 2019.

Yom, Sean. “Analysis | How Middle Eastern Monarchies Survived the Arab Spring.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Apr. 2019.

1 thought on “Chilean Government Using Violence to Discourage Rising Protests<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">4</span> min read</span>”

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I liked your parallel to the Arab Spring because both these protests in Chile and the protests in Tunisia at the beginning of the Arab Spring started after a seemingly small event triggered the angry feelings of the people. Although raising public transportation fees probably did not seem like very drastic of a measure, this decision ignited the discontent towards the general inequality in Chile. It is very surprising to me that Chile hasn’t created a new constitution since the days of Pinochet. I agree with you that Piñera does not seem to be following his promise to adopt a new constitution based on his violent suppression of protesters. The Chilean government could respond to these protests by compromising with the protesters and adopting a more progressive constitution with positive rights. This strategy could appease the protesters, but could cause the government to lose some power. Contrarily, the government could increase clientelism to try to appease the protesters and protest leaders. I seems like at this point the public anger towards income inequality has boiled over in Chile and the Chilean government faces the threat of being overthrown if they continue to quell the protests using repression. I would agree with you that the best change for the government to preserve their regime is through compromise.

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