What started as a protest over a 4 cent hike on subway tickets has transformed into a nationwide uprising that has resulted in the death of at least 19 people in Chile. Following the raise in metro ticket costs, protesters took to the streets to express their anger with the price. Initially, the protesters, most of whom were students, demonstrated by jumping over the subway gates. By Friday, the protesters had turned to violence. They set fire to subway trains, stations and other buildings. As they became violent, the protests have also turned nationwide, as more and more Chileans are expressing their dislike for the current government. Many Chileans feel they are not benefiting from the economic success that has swept through the country.
Currently, “many Chilean families earn between $550 and $700 a month” and the country has extremely high levels of economic inequality (theguardian.com). With the levels of economic growth in Chile, Chileans are left wondering why they are not benefiting from this success. Also catalyzing these protests are calls for better education and lower costs of living. Videos show protesters, fires and overturned vehicles filling the streets of Santiago. In response, the Chilean military has been mobilized onto the streets of the Capital, Santiago. At least 19 have been killed and hundreds more have been wounded as a result of the demonstrations. The military can be seen driving them back with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons, and in some instances, live rounds. This has prompted the UN to begin conducting an investigation into possible abuses of force and human rights violations on the part of the Chilean military. Upon further review, it appears these allegations of homicide and excessive violence way be true. In some instances, the military has been accused of shooting indiscriminately at Chileans who have ignored the mandatory curfew. Others claim they were attacked when peacefully protesting (Sadiq and Franklin). These forms of violence will not likely bode well for the current government.
Many are calling for Sebastian Piñera, the current President of Chile, to resign, however, that does not appear to be happening any time soon. He came to power in 2010 and saw his popularity soar as he responded to an earthquake in 2010 and succeeded in recovering miners from a collapsed mine that same year (Larsson). Possibly hurting his image in the public is the fact that he is a billionaire businessman turned politician. Many view him as unsympathetic to the inequality they are facing. Ironically, he faced similar student protests in 2011 which spread due to economic inequality. Ultimately, his term ended and he was replaced, but he ran for a second term in 2017, winning the election yet again.
Earlier this month, Piñera called Chile “an oasis” due to its economic growth and stability (theguardian.com). Clearly, he misunderstood his own citizens understanding of the current situation. With his previous history, it is quite surprising to see this cycle of protests stemming from the same issues as before. Less than a year into his second term, Piñera is facing a familiar sight- protests. Similar to those in his first term, these protests were originally organized by students and then adopted by the rest of the Chileans. Like in 2011, Piñera has responded by firing members of his cabinet, and like before, they “largely failed” (Larsson). In addition, he has raised pensions and minimum wage in an effort to address the problems. On Sunday, Piñera raised the State of Emergency instituted 9 days prior and the Capital was without protests (Castillo and Croft). In the coming days, it will become much more clear the path the government will take and whether or not any significant reform will take place.
Interestingly enough, these protests in Chile are not singular. Elsewhere around the world, in Catalonia, Lebanon and Hong Kong, citizens are taking to the streets to protest their governments. This is not a coincidence. Much like the Arab Spring, when one country leads the way and demonstrates that it is possible to get the attention of their government, others are inspired and follow. This is no different.
This event is significant because it calls into question the stability of Chile. In South America, Chile had seemed to be leading the way in terms of stability, however, these protests are calling that into question. Is democracy failing in Chile? Will Chile be the next Presidential system to fall? Regardless, it will be interesting to see if any substantive reforms take place and see if these protests prove to be effective.
Castillo, Mariano, and Jay Croft. “Chilean President Asks Ministers to Resign after Week of Unrest.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Oct. 2019, edition.cnn.com/2019/10/26/world/chile-unrest-president-ministers-resign/index.html.
Larsson, Naomi. “Chile Unrest: ‘These Protests Will Last until Pinera Resigns’.” Chile News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 25 Oct. 2019, www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/chile-unrest-protests-pinera-resigns-191025163738785.html.
Sadiq, Maheen, and Jonathan Franklin. “Shots Fired at Protesters Defying Curfew in Chile – Video.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/video/2019/oct/22/shots-fired-at-protesters-defying-curfew-in-chile-video.
Santiago, Associated Press in. “Chilean Leader Tries to Calm Unrest with Wage Rises and Taxes on Rich.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/23/chile-unrest-president-sebastian-pinera-wage-rises-taxes-on-rich.