Saturday, October 26, 2019

Chile's Protests

One million people filled the broad avenues in Santiago , the Chilean capital, on Friday to protest economic inequality. It has been dubbed "the biggest march in Chile" against the government of President Sebastian Pinera. Earlier, truck drivers and some public transport workers went went on strike around Santiago. Thousands more rallied nationwide and in the port city of Valparaiso, the National Congress was evacuated as protesters clashed with police.  At least 19 people have died in a week of protests across the country that spurred the government to declare a state of emergency and implement curfews. Hundreds of people have been injured and more than 7,000 arrested in the unrest that has brought soldiers onto the streets. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for an independent probe into protester deaths during weekend demonstrations in Chile, citing "disturbing allegations" of excessive use of force by security services.

The unrest was triggered by a small increase in metro fares in the capital but have morphed into a broader show of discontent with inequality in one of Latin America's richest countries.

inera's government has struggled to contain a largely leader-free swelling of anger despite announcing concessions earlier this week. They include an increase in the minimum wage and the lowest state pensions, rolling back the metro fare hike and putting on hold a planned spike in electricity prices.

Pinera has been in office since last year, but served an earlier term as president from 2010 to 2014. He has an estimated net wealth of $2.8 billion (€2.5 billion), making him one of the richest people in Chile and a target of protesters.

Jorge Saavedra, a lecturer in Cambridge University's sociology department and an expert on Chile said, "If you scratch beyond the surface of Chile, there is evidence of enormous social, cultural, economic and political injustice. Its good image stands on weak pillars that are supported, in large part, by the patience of a people who are getting tired of being abused." The rise in metro fares was the drop of water that made the cup overflow in a country where basic services are privatized, social security is precarious and the privileges of certain sectors have angered a large segment of the population that feels shunted aside.

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