It is now over fifty-two consecutive days of mass mobilisation throughout all of Chile. It started off in Santiago as protests by mostly high schoolgirls over the increase in metro prices. The protests gained mass support and within a few days had spread throughout all of Chilean society. People from every demographic took to the streets demanding deep structural change and outright rejecting the neoliberal agenda implemented by Milton Freidman’s “Chicago Boys”, a model untouched from the days of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Social demands over inequality are at the core of this crisis - the Gini index that measures inequality has ranked Chile as the most unequal country in the OECD. The class divide that was always big is now bigger. Chile has long working hours (the work week was 45 hrs, recently legislated to 40 hrs a week), and low wages - the minimum wage is about A$600 a month.
Chileans also want a new pension scheme since the current AFP private system gives on average A$300 a month. It is common for seniors to continue to work to make ends meet. Being in debt from going to university or to cover medical expenses is considered normal.
State infrastructure has been reduced to ruins after being rolled back and sold off for over 30 years. For example, all of Chilean water is privatised. Public education and health are extremely underfunded with over demand.
The resignation of President Sebastian Piñera has become a more prominent demand after mishandling the situation from day one. On October 19 he declared a state of emergency, stating “we are at war with a powerful enemy”. The state of emergency lasted for nine days. The state repression has been brutal and reckless with the same methodology as was done during the dictatorship.
Piñera now has blood on his hands. Twenty-three people have been killed, and 3,449 have been injured at the hands of the military and police. The damage from shotguns and rubber pellets have caused 352 eye injuries, people are shot at close range with shotguns and tear gas launchers with the intent to do as much damage as possible. The INDH (National Human Rights Institute) reports 192 cases of sexual violence, 405 claims of torture, strip searches and forcing people (predominantly women) to squat naked for long periods of time. Exactly like 1973.
With an approval rate of 4.6% by Encueta Pulso Ciudadano, Piñera has not been able to take control of the crisis.
He had to cancel hosting the COP25 and APEC 2019 Forum. A Cabinet reshuffle and bandaid solutions have not met the social demands coming from the streets. A new law criminalises the protests with tough jail terms for throwing stones, making barricades and hiding faces.
In Congress, the whole Right, Centre and even some Left MPs have signed off on agreement for constitutional change with a plebiscite announced for April 2020. There are two options for the plebiscite. One is for a body to draft a new constitution to be of equal parts of current MPs and others elected from the public. The second option is to be wholly elected from the public. How these are elected from the populace is still not clearly defined.
The Left wants “Asamblea Constituyente” (Constituent Assembly), a true democratic assembly that accurately represents Chilean society. Left wing local councils, neighbourhood groups, social organisations and even soccer clubs began their own process to ask people how to implement political change. “Cabildos” (public forums) have erupted everywhere, a rare positive development.
The majority of population want the mobilisations, which don’t appear to be losing any momentum. People want to be protagonists in the change process. The future is uncertain in Chile where the state has always placed law-and-order as a higher priority than the lives of its citizens.
(The statistics on human rights violations come from INDH, last updated 6/12/19.)