Why Is Chile Protesting?

Chile has been known as one of the more stable countries in South America but lately, it has been in the news. Thousands of Chileans are protesting for quite some time now. But why are they protesting in the first place? Here’s a quick explainer.

What sparked the mass protests?

The protests started when the government of Chile imposed a 3.75% percent hike in subway fares in the city of Santiago.  This amounts to an additional 30 Chilean pesos (around 5 US cents). This might seem like a small amount, but this increase is something that can be deeply felt by low-income families.

As a protest, high school and university students evaded the subway fares by jumping over ticket barriers. The government decided to respond by using force, deploying the police to confront the students. This sparked violent clashes which intensified as more Chileans joined in the mass protests.

Two days after its announcement, President Piñera junked the fare hike in an attempt to quell the protests. Eventually, he apologized and promised to address the economic woes plaguing Chile. Furthermore, he asked for the resignation of his cabinet.

All these efforts didn’t convince the Chileans, with the protests still on-going until now.

How long has this been going on? What’s the current status?

The protests started on October 7 shortly after the announcement of the fare hike. The mass protests are now on its fourth week.

On October 18, a series of attacks gravely burned 21 stations of Santiago’s subway and damaged roughly 79 more. This prompted President Sebastián Piñera to declare a state of emergency the day after.

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At least 20 people have been killed during this span of time. The National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) of Chile reported that roughly 4,316 people were detained as of November 1.

What is the economic impact of the protests?

The World Bank lists Chile among the fastest growing economies in Latin America as of recent time. Their growth rate of Chile is at 4% back in 2018. The first half of 2019 saw a decline, with GDP falling to 1.8% due to increasing friction, climate conditions, and delayed government reforms.

With the month-long protests occurring on this year’s second half, it is clear that the growth of Chile’s economy is further decelerated.

What is the root cause of the protests?

While Chile is experiencing significant economic growth in recent decades, this growth is skewed in favour of those in the high-income class.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the gender pay gap is extremely wide in the country. OECD also ranks Chile among the countries with the highest rates of income inequality.

No son 30 pesos – son 30 años.

It’s not 30 pesos – it’s 30 years.

This is the chant of the mass protesters in the streets of Chile.

More than just the 30-peso fare hike, Chileans have grown tired of the inequalities they experienced, 30 years since the dictatorship ended and democracy rose in the country.

Even after the revocation of the fare hike, a broadcast of an apology, and the promise for economic reform, the protests won’t stop. Some of the Chileans are clamouring for the President to step down. Some of them are demanding an overhaul of the Constitution.

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It is clear that what the Chileans demand are more than just surface-level promises of economic growth — they want a restructuring of the government. They want to tear down the very foundations that allow inequality to thrive on their land.

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