Updated: Nov 7, 2019
On the surface, Chile has been praised as one of the safest and most stable countries in Latin America. When protests erupted on October 18th of this year, this masquerade that leaders in the country had been setting forth slowly crumbled.
A $0.04 raise in the metro fare price is what caused the start of trouble, with students setting off the protest. What started as just young people jumping turnstiles instead of paying the fare, slowly evolved into riots, the looting of buildings, and the eventual destruction of 22 metro stations.* Chile’s current President, Sebastian Piñera, declared a state of emergency, established a nighttime curfew, and sent 20,000 military troops into the streets to oppose the protestors. As of the time of publication of this article, 19 people have died and 3,535 have been detained by police.
Citizens were not just protesting a 4% increase in metro fare, they were letting out 30 years of frustration that had been festering behind the facade of a stable economy. Chile has had the same constitution since 1980, which was written by military dictator, Augusto Pinochet. The constitution sets forth a highly privatized economy, under which poverty has dropped from 31% in 2000 to 6% in 2017.** And although the poverty level has gone down, the functionality of their education system, health system, and transportation system have all dropped significantly. Citizens claim they are tired of the inequality, pointing to the fact that the wealth gap among the Chilean citizens is among the widest in the world. The richest 1% of the nation earn 33% of the nation’s wealth annually.*
"My Parents Are from a Frightened Generation, but There Is Another Generation That Is Not Afraid"***
On October 25, 100,000 protestors arranged themselves for a peaceful demonstration in the nation's capital, Santiago. This was the largest demonstration in the country’s history. The protestors themselves were men, women, and children of all ages. Young people claimed to be marching for their elders, one teacher even claiming, “I’m marching for my 76-year-old mother who works seven days a week because her miserable pension isn’t enough”.**
Although the curfews and the state of emergency were lifted on the evening of Sunday, October 27th, this will not be an issue easily resolved. Protests have slowed since President Piñera, acknowledged the protests and has made a promise to work towards higher taxes on the rich, an increase to the minimum wage, and a 20% increase of pensions.* If he will remain true to these promises has yet to be seen.
* Johanson, Mark. “How a 4-Cent Metro Fare Price Hike Sparked Massive Unrest in Chile.” Vox, Vox, 29 Oct. 2019, www.vox.com/world/2019/10/29/20938402/santiago-chile-protests-2019-riots-metro-fare-pinera.
** VERGARA, MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and EVA. “Stunning Wealth Gap, Poor Services Behind Chile's Protests.” Time, Time, 28 Oct. 2019, time.com/5711937/chile-wealth-gap-protests-inequality/.
*** “'My Parents Are from a Frightened Generation, but There Is Another Generation That Is Not Afraid'.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 23 Oct. 2019, www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-10-23/chile-frightened-generation.