Since the beginning of October, civil unrest has torn apart the country of Chile. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets, all while facing severe backlash from the state police. The protests are believed to be the largest since the backlash surrounding the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1988.
Why the unrest and violence? Protesters responded swiftly after the government attempted to implement a series of changes and reforms in the country that the vast majority of citizens did not agree with. The first protest emerged after the Chilean President, Sebástian Piñera, announced a 4% increase in subway fares for the Santiago Metro and Metrotrén. Shortly after this measure was announced, secondary schoolchildren respond by participating in “fare dodging” at the metro station. They deliberately chose not to pay for their tickets. This act encouraged more people to protest the President’s other proposed initiatives. Income inequality, rising cost of living, and government corruption have been the source of several of the large scale protests that have consumed the city as well.
Unfortunately the protests have not been peaceful. It is estimated that around 20 people have died and 2500 have been injured since the start of the implementation of new measures. (Franklin) Conflict between police and protesters has resulted in an increase of hospital patients, particularly at Posta, an under staffed and under resourced health clinic. Staff have had to make difficult decisions about the distribution of resources in the hospital. Many patients have died unnecessarily due to lack of basic medical necessities like syringes and surgical masks. Those who do get treatment often have to wait days for access to important medical testing that is potentially life saving. It has gotten so bad that nurses and doctors from the hospital must, “decide whether to withhold supplies for patients near death in favor of those with a better chance of survival.” (Franklin)
It is not just the inability to access basic medical supplies that have impacted the death rates at Posta. One medical professional recounted a time when a patient had died and the doctor went to look at his charts afterwards. He noticed that the now deceased man was married with children to which he responded, “Oh. I thought he was indigent.” (Franklin) This lack of human decency and fairness echos the sentiments by the President. Rather than being proactive in dealing with the civil unrest, he has been rather lax about the whole situation. It wasn’t until a citizen took a photo of him relaxing at a local restaurant that he decided to take action. (Wikipedia) Right after this incident, he announced a 15 day state of emergency in Santiago that allowed the Chilean armed forces to patrol the streets alongside the local police.
Violence has continued in the city as shown by looted shops, burned buildings, and overall chaos. On October 20th, the government imposed curfews for citizens in an attempt to control the violence. But, little changed in the makeup of the scale and intensity of protests. This is largely in part because of the speech the President gave to the nation shortly before. He declared that the country was, ”at war with a powerful and implacable enemy”. (Wikipedia) This didn’t sit well with citizens who in turn demanded more reforms such as education, de-privatization of healthcare, and economic equality.
For those alive during the dictatorship regime of Augusto Pinochet, the recent unrest has brought back painful memories of the past. But for others like, Isabel, it has inspired a renewed sense of hope. “We are of the generation that began our lives in the dictatorship, and we had no youth. We lost friends, we saw people slaughtered. We lived with fear, but now the young people have blossomed, they have lost that fear.” (Larsson) These people represent Chile’s next generation of leaders, speakers, and professionals and therefore it is in the President’s best interest to listen to the young people and take notes.
Interestingly enough, on October 27th President Piñera announced that he had dismissed his entire cabinet in an effort to address the protests by restructuring his government. In response to this major shift, peaceful protests took place in the capital city on Friday. More than a million people took to the streets to celebrate this step forward in getting the change they want. In another instance of hope the President tweeted, “we have all changed. Today’s joyful and peaceful march, in which Chileans have asked for a more just and unified Chile, opens hopeful paths into the future.” (BBC)
Chilean citizens exercised democracy extraordinarily by standing up for one another and their basic rights. This is a classic example of the democratic process despite the violence it, unfortunately, caused. The President responded in a timely manner and showed that he is dedicated to listening to the people. Out of chaos and violence, hopefully positive change is ahead for Chile.
“Chile Protests: President Sacks Whole Cabinet after Protests.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Oct. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50197673.
Franklin, Jonathan. “Hundreds Shot and Beaten as Chile Takes to the Streets.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/27/chile-hundreds-shot-and-beaten-street-protests.
Larsson, Naomi. “Chile Protests: More than One Million Bring Santiago to a Halt.” Chile News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 26 Oct. 2019, www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/chile-protests-million-bring-santiago-halt-191025223542333.html.
“2019 Chilean Protests.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Oct. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Chilean_protests.