Backgrounder: Chilean Protests

By Chandrea Baster

Throughout the last few weeks, Santiago, Chile has been experiencing dangerous protests by Chilean citizens. The situation has already caused multiple deaths and has been viewed with increasing concern by the Chilean government and increasing frustration by its people.

Protests have been ongoing for approximately three weeks now in response to new legislation called the “Metro de Santiago Subway Fare,” which increased the price of public transportation in the city of Santiago by 4 percent. Throughout the last 12 years, metro fares have increased by nearly 100 percent in Santiago, a city that already had one of the most expensive public transportation systems in Latin America before the increases.

Many of the protestors are high school students who rely on public transit systems to get to their classes, but workers also comprise a large portion of the protestors. These protestors all want an end to the law and the return of fair prices, and almost all public transportation has been shut down in response to their massive-scale protests.  

Many individuals are vehemently opposed to the recent increase in prices, which went into effect on October 6th, because metro fare is not the first commodity to become more expensive in Chile in recent years. The cost of necessities such as rent, food, and gasoline has also greatly increased just as salaries have remained the same.

These recent events have also further exposed deep issues in Chile regarding economic and financial inequality. In Chile, 33 percent of wealth is held by one percent of the population, and the richest 20 percent earns about 10 times more than the poorest 20 percent. Consequently, it is possible that legislation allocating money to the lowest class, which encompasses 30 percent of the population, could alleviate tensions. Making sure that the lower class feels heard and meeting their needs will be imperative in fixing the issues that exist in Chile. 

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declared a state of emergency in Santiago, establishing a night-time curfew and sending over 10,500 soldiers and tanks to Santiago. Government officials have used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators in an attempt to calm down the protests, which have been slowly transitioning into riots. Since October 20th, protests have continued. Protestors have been setting cars and trucks on fire, attacking supermarkets, and getting arrested — over 1,400 people have been detained in Chile since the start of the protests.

Additionally, the Chilean protests have had an international impact. All flights out of Santiago’s international airport have been canceled and nearly all businesses closed or have shortened hours. Additionally, for the first time in history, President Piñera terminated two scheduled international summits. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Climate summits were scheduled to be held in Chile, but the president has decided to focus on resolving domestic issues.

Rather than simply responding with aggression and violence, the Chilean government must get down to the root of the problem and determine legislation that will benefit those that are at an economic disadvantage in society. For example, rather than simply raising metro prices for all, the Chilean government could develop specific metro programs for frequent users that are economically disadvantaged. In other words, rather than offering a temporary solution to the current protests, the Chilean government should look towards making changes that will have a lasting impact on Chilean citizens.

Photo courtesy of Felipe y Jairo Castilla (Flickr).

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