Updated: Apr 4, 2020
On October 14th, 2019, a series of ongoing protests in Chile started. However, this was just the tipping point to months and months of built-up anger and dissatisfaction with the Chilean government.
Similar to the fuel tax in France that made the price of gas rise, it was the increase in subway fares that made public transportation more expensive for regular Chileans. For French citizens that relied on public transportation, the fuel tax didn’t really affect them; however, to the people that relied on vehicles for transportation as well as their occupation, this tax was possibly quite detrimental. Likewise, with an increase in subway fares in Chile, many young people expressed their concerns by trending the hashtag, #EvasionMasiva or #MassEvasion in english. Young people started to rebel and even “jumped over turnstiles” in subway stations. This caused a major police presence in many parts of Chile where they felt an intervention may have been necessary.
REASONS BEHIND PROTESTS:
While the catalyst for the protests was the rise in subway fares, the transition of the protests being about transportation costs to a greater sense of inequality reveals the long developed frustration in Chile. After all, it would be unlikely that many people would gather to simply protest subway fares if it were not for something that they believe to be a greater force responsible for a variety of inequalities.
Patricio Navia, a Chilean Political Scientist, says that the President Sebastian Pinera lowered taxes on the rich/wealthy in hopes of creating space for further investments. Navia points out that this action has only had an adverse effect on the middle class as they feel left behind by the government. Also, some people like Monica de Bolle from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, say that the government could have better prepared the Chilean people for “an economic downturn” by investing in education, infrastructure, etc. when there was a "commodities boom" in the early 2000s. They say this would have helped to alleviate some stress in the present with many people struggling financially.
REMNANTS OF THE PAST:
Similar to the Yellow Vest protests, violence began very rapidly during these protests. Unlike the Yellow Vests, this violence, including looting, vandalism, and more serious crimes, resulted in a call of a ‘state of emergency’ by President Pinera. During this time, the President brought the military into the streets in an attempt to “restore order”. This has resulted in many injuries and a total of twenty-nine deaths to this date, February 29th 2020. It’s important to remember that atrocities were committed by both sides. The government estimates a total of $3 000 000 000 of damages by protesters, but also 3 000 - 4 000 injuries to protesters from the military. The actions of the military were for some who lived under his rule, surprising and somewhat reminiscent of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet almost thirty years prior. During his rule, thousands of people who opposed his rule were tortured and many went missing. This only happened relatively recently and is therefore important in understanding today’s protests in Chile.
THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE:
As previously mentioned, the government first responded to the protests with the military; however, after many people accused the military forces of an abuse of power, the President quickly acknowledged this and stated that the “perpetrators [would] be investigated and punished”. After the initial protests, the government did as much as they could to address the situation at hand. The unions of Chile initially requested a raise of 500 000 pesos ($657) as the monthly minimum wage and pension payment from the $396. While the government did not increase it to 500 000 pesos, they did raise it substantially from $396 to $460.
Additionally, unlike the Yellow Vest protests in France, the opposition as well as the ruling alliance suggested the writing of a new constitution. As the current constitution was written during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial rule, a new constitution was suggested to be written by the people, for the people. On April 26th 2020, a referendum will be held, asking the public if they want a new constitution to be written by “elected citizens or a mixed citizen-legislator convention”. A vote taken by a sample of people suggests that “92.4 percent of voters support a new constitution and 73.1 percent favour an all-citizen constitutional convention”. It is important to note that in this poll, people fourteen years and older were included in the vote and was also conducted online - attracting many young people to vote. While this is just a sample poll and could not be representative of the entire country, it is useful in evaluating the extent to which citizens do want a new constitution.
Overall, while it doesn’t seem like these protests will end anytime soon, they will remain a significant event in recent world history.
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