Over one million Chileans marched through the streets of Santiago on October 25 calling for the resignation of right-wing billionaire President Sebastián Piñera and the end of neoliberal policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The march is considered to be the largest in Chilean history, and hundreds of thousands have continued to take to the streets on a daily basis since then.
Piñera has enacted some nominal concessions, but the people remain in the streets demanding real change. In a major humiliation, his government had to announce that it could no longer host the high-profile Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and the COP25 climate change summit.
Demonstrations initially started on October 7 when high school students began to evade subway fares en masse by opening the turnstiles in act of civil disobedience. The action was in response to a hike in prices to the Santiago transportation system, the second most expensive in Latin America. The Chilean police (carabineros) responded by violently arresting the students. The country erupted into nationwide protests as Chilean people demanded better living conditions. The government issued a state of emergency and a curfew in certain regions.
Piñera announced a “war against a powerful enemy” and stated that the government is “willing to use violence with no limits.” Military vehicles were dispatched throughout the country. The Chilean military, trained in part by the United States and Israel, has responded to the demonstrations by shooting live rounds at unarmed protestors. This show of brutal force has not been witnessed since the U.S.-installed dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1981.
So far there have been at least five confirmed deaths in the hands of the Chilean armed forces:
- Romario Veloz Cortés, 21, from Ecuador was shot dead by soldiers in La Serena
- Kevin Gomez Morgado, 23, killed by soldiers in Coquimbo
- José Miguel Uribe Antipani, 25, shot dead by soldiers in Curico, a city not under state of emergency or curfew
- Alejandro Rebolledo, 23, was ran over and killed by a military vehicle in Talcahuano
- Alex Andrés Núñez Sandoval, 39, died from injuries sustained by police in Maipú
Additionally, there have been almost 2,500 injuries and over 5,000 arrests. There have also been horrific instances of excessive force, arbitrary detention and sexual violence.
The capitalist media has instead chosen to portray the protests as violent riots and highlight destruction to private property. Ignored in this coverage are videos of carabineros and military personnel intentionally tearing down light posts and allowing buildings to be set on fire. The intention is to delegitimize what have been mostly peaceful protests. When Liberation News reached out to a student who participated in the Santiago protest last Friday, she said, “I believe that a large part of the population realizes that the abuses committed by the neoliberal system are more violent than the damage to private property.”
Santiago resident Rodrigo Cordova explained, “Look, the truth is, things will not improve unless there are radical changes. Chile is tired of being exploited. The neoliberal model is brutal, but I am filled with hope by the movements. I am optimistic when I see families in squares and entire cities banging on pots and pans demanding a better life.”
Demands of the people
As the protests have grown, the Chilean people have centered on the following demands: remove Sebastian Piñera as president and create a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution; nationalize basic services and resources; and end the oppression against the Indigenous people of Chile.
The approval rating of Sebastián Piñera has fallen to a historic low of 14 percent following the protests. While liberal democracy was restored in 1990 following the end of Augusto Pinochet’s regime, Piñera is in many ways a continuation of the dictatorship. His cousin, Andrés Chadwick Piñera was until just days ago the Minister of the Interior but he began his political career when the Pinochet regime appointed him president of the Students Federation of the Catholic University of Chile. Additionally, Piñera’s mining minister Baldo Prokurica was a governor during the dictatorship. Piñera’s brother Jose wrote the dictatorship’s extreme anti-worker Labor Law, which remains in force today.
But the people of Chile are fully aware that removing Piñera from power would not be enough. The country’s current Constitution was written by a commission appointed by Pinochet during his dictatorship. The protesters know that in order to see true justice, the country needs a new constitution written by a Constituent Assembly elected by the people that will protect the rights of workers.
Along with the implementation of workers’ rights, Chileans are calling for the nationalization of services and resources. The Santiago transportation system that initially set off the protests is privately operated and financially managed by the Transiantiago Financial Administration. But the privatization goes far beyond just the transportation system. Chile is the only country in the world where water is privately owned. The companies that operate Chile’s mines have rights to the purest water from the mountains, while the people have to settle for the water extracted from underground which is full of chlorides.
Additionally, while Chile has one of the longest coastlines in the world, seven families control almost all of its fishing industry. A strong lobby passed a controversial law in 2001 that allocated 92 percent of fishing quotas to these families, practically destroying all artisanal fishing.
Chile’s government has a long history of oppressing Indigenous peoples. Within the last year, Camillo Catrillanca, a Mapuche activist, was killed by Chile’s carabineros. Catrillanca was shot in the back and neck while riding his tractor. The police later admitted to erasing the footage taken on the helmet cam. This sparked massive protests, and the approval rating of Chile’s carabineros fell to 39 percent. To this day, the Mapuche continue to fight for the return of their lands.
The neoliberal experiment is unraveling
It has been said that there are two Chiles: one rich, the other poor. What used to be the second most equal country in Latin America during the presidency of Salvador Allende is now one of the most unequal in the world. Piñera once called Chile an “oasis.” This might be true for him and the country’s other billionaires, but for most Chileans it is a struggle to survive.
Practically every aspect of the lives of Chileans became privatized beginning in 1973. The Chicago Boys, a group of Chilean economists who studied neoliberal free market policies at the University of Chicago and later returned to Latin America, adopted various positions in the government. Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet, they implemented policies that deliberately served the interests of U.S. corporations.
The economic growth during the 1990s referred to as the “Miracle of Chile” has not benefited the working class. However, it is the labor of the Chilean workers that allowed for “miracle” to happen in the first place. The people have now taken to the streets to demand their due justice. Today, Chile is fighting back to expose the cracks in the neoliberal foundation.