Chilean Protests

Written by: Chandrea Baster

A state of unrest has subsumed a country in western South America. Throughout the last few weeks, Santiago, Chile has been experiencing dangerous protests by Chilean natives due to heightened metro prices. The situation has already caused multiple deaths and has been viewed as something of extreme concern for the Chilean government. The situation is becoming increasingly contentious as protests continue and natives become increasingly frustrated with the government.  

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. The cost of a ride on public transportation has now been increased by 4 percent with this new law. Throughout the last 12 years, metro fares have increased by nearly 100 percent in Santiago, which is already one of the most expensive transportation systems in Latin America. Many of the protestors are high school students, who rely on public transit systems to get to school. However, workers who utilize transportation to get to work also comprise a large portion of the protestors. Nearly all public transportation has been shut down in response to the protests. Nevertheless, the protestors are all demanding one common thing: the removal of this new law, as they all believe in fair transportation prices. 

Many individuals are vehemently opposed to the recent increase in prices, which went into effect on October 6th, because the stark increase in price is not the first commodity to become more expensive in Chile. Throughout the last few years, the cost of necessities such as rent, food, and gasoline has greatly increased. However, salaries have remained the same, making it challenging to have a sufficient amount of disposable income each month. These recent events have exposed the deep issues in Chile regarding economic inequality and the wealth divide. In Chile, 33 percent of the wealth is held by the one percent. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, this qualifies Chile as the country with the greatest inequality. It is clear why Chilean individuals are frustrated and protesting. 

Legislation that would allocate money to the lowest class, which encompasses 30 percent of the population, could alleviate some of the recent tension that has been building due to the recent price increase. Making sure that the lower class feels heard and meeting their needs is imperative to fixing the issues that exist in Chile. 

The economic disparity in Chile is frightening. One of the reasons many individuals have been protesting is because they are tired of the vast wealth gap that exists. In 2006, the richest 20 percent earned 10 times more than the poorest 20 percent. Chile is a country with one of the highest levels of inequality when compared to the world’s industrialised countries.The protests signify the cost of living and the divide that exists between Chile’s wealthiest individuals and those that are considered to be some of the poorest in the world. 

The president, Sebastián Piñera, declared a state of emergency in Santiago. A night-time curfew has been established and there has been significant government response to the recent events. The government has sent over 10,500 soldiers and tanks to Santiago, which has not happened since 1990 when Chile returned to democracy after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In response to the protestors, government officials have used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators in an attempt to calm down the protests, which have been transitioning into riots. The riots have been violent, and at least eight individuals have already been killed. Rather than reacting with aggression, it would be intelligent for the Chilean government to respond with new legislation to purposefully decrease the economic disparity in Chile. 

Since October 20th, protests have continued. Protestors have been setting cars and trucks on fire, with looting perpetuating and riots growing. Supermarkets have been attacked and over 1,400 people have been detained in Chile. 

Additionally, the Chilean protests have had an international impact. All flights out of Santiago’s international airport have been canceled and nearly all shops and stores are 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. It is evident that the domestic issues in Chile are now becoming international, as they are impacting foreign affairs on a grand scale. 

The current situation in Santiago, Chile is extremely worrisome. The government needs a stronger response system, but not a violent one. 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. Rather than simply raising metro prices for all, the Chilean government should develop specific metro programs for frequent users that are economically disadvantaged rather than simply increasing the prices for everyone. Rather than temporarily dealing with the problem, the Chilean government should look towards making changes that will have a lasting impact on Chilean citizens.