World News

Protests in Chile Over Rising Inequality

Chile is considered one of the most stable and prosperous Latin American countries, with a GDP of 277.1 billion U.S. dollars, ranking 43rd of 211 countries in the world. However, the majority of the economic gains fall into the wealthier population, causing a big gap between the rich and the poor.

Protesters in Santiago, Chile on October 22nd, 2019.

Protests erupted October 18th over a student-led fight against the police caused by a 4% increase in subway fares. President Piñera’s response the next day sparked more anger, as he announced that Chile was “at war with a violent enemy” and declared a state of emergency; he set a 15-day curfew on major cities of the nation, such as Santiago and Concepción, while mobilizing the military.

On October 20th, over increasing demonstrations, the subway fare increase was scrapped. Two days later, the president televised a public apology for the government’s “lack of vision”; he introduced a series of new social reforms, including an increase in minimum wage and basic pension, but the demonstrations continued.

Over one million protesters gathered in Santiago, October 26th, despite violent responses from the military and national police. They have been dispersing protesters with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The police has detained at least 3,535 people, from which at least 305 are children or teenagers. 584 people are injured. Chile’s human rights commission, (INDH) has recorded reports of torture, physical and verbal abuse, and shooting at civilians from the police. They compiled 67 cases against the police; 5 related to homicide and 12 to sexual abuse.

President Piñera’s efforts to calm protesters continues. He has ended the curfews and replaced eight important members of his Cabinet, among them the Ministers of Interior, Finance, and Labor, and the Secretariat of the Presidency (similar to the U.S. Chief of Staff), in an attempt to soften tensions that have been rising in past weeks.

Yet, all of these efforts have resulted in being unsuccessful. The protests have caused him to cancel two international summits in the upcoming months: November’s APEC trade summit and December’s COP25 UN climate conference.

This is currently the most violent unrest in Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in the late 1980s. The government’s main concern is “fully restoring public order, security, and social peace”; but, as of right now, it seems unlikely to happen.

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