Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Chilean Peoples Protest Continue

After six weeks of  protests, Chilean authorities have shown few signs of resolving the crises that began over a public transportation fare hike and quickly evolved into widespread criticism of the country’s profound inequality and neoliberal policies.
Despite minor concessions to alleviate the high costs of living for the country’s poorest, the government has not proposed any structural change to reduce inequality. According to Chilean NGO Fundación Sol, 70 percent of Chilean workers earn less than 550,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) per month ($663 in U.S. dollars) and 1 percent concentrates 33 percent of the country’s income, while 0.01 percent concentrates 11.5 percent with monthly salaries of over 576 million CLP (approximately $695,000 in U.S. dollars). The so-called social agenda, which was nonexistent before the outburst, includes freezing electricity price hikes until the end of 2020, regulating highway toll increases only by the consumer price index, raising minimum wage by CLP 49,000 (U.S. $59) to 350,000 per month (U.S. $422), and adding a 50 percent bonus to the lowest pensions, which, at such miserable returns, translates into a total of CLP 165,301 per month (U.S. $200).

One of the major social demands consists of abolishing Chile’s privatized pension system, designed by José Piñera, the president’s brother, and based on a scheme of individual capitalization. Heavily influenced by Milton Friedman’s school of economics, José Piñera served as Pinochet’s minister of labor and social security from 1978 to 1980, overseeing the compulsory transfer to privatized pensions. Whereas the general population is bound by this system, the police and military benefit from generous, state-administered pensions, widening an antagonistic divide between the armed forces and civilians.

 President Sebastián Piñera’s government has responded with mounting force to subdue popular dissent. Amnesty International published a report alleging that Chilean armed forces and police have deliberately sought to harm protesters, directing political responsibility at authorities. Human Rights Watch, the UN Human Rights Council and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are expected to publish their findings within the coming weeks. 

So far, the crisis has claimed the lives of 26 people, five of whom were killed by the military or police and two who died in police custody, according to the local Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía).

Between October 17 and November 25, the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) documented 7,259 arrests, 2,808 hospitalizations, and filed 499 lawsuits against the Chilean State, of which 369 are for torture and 79 for sexual violence, including four cases of rape. However, Human Rights Watch reported that over 15,000 people have been arrested between October 18 and November 19 and another 2,000 were “retained” during the state of emergency from October 19-17. Nearly 270 people have suffered severe eye trauma from riot gun ammunition, many losing permanent vision in at least one eye. In late October, the Chilean Medical Association (Colegio Médico) described this situation as a sanitary emergency and called for police to cease their use of rubber and metal buckshot, which was suspended temporarily. On November 13, a leaked audio of the director general of Carabineros, Mario Rozas, exposed his intention of providing total impunity to officers, regardless of the consequences.
Piñera recently proposed a series of security measures that include harshening sentences against hooded protesters, reintegrating retired officers into the police force and fast-tracking academy training in order to add several thousand new officers by December. 
On November 24, he announced a proposal to deploy the military without having to declare a state of emergency in order to secure “critical infrastructure” like water-processing and power plants, neither of which have been threatened by protests. 
Mainstream media outlets have focused primarily on looting and arson, setting in motion an informational blockade that has contributed to official efforts to criminalize the social movement. After Piñera met with television executives in late October, an influential news editor at Canal 13 resigned and several progressive TV personalities have been fired from other networks. As a result, Chileans have grown ever more skeptical of the television and traditional newspapers, relying on social media to build a counteroffensive of video footage and independent reporting that helps grasp a clearer picture of what is going on throughout the country.

Every day, new videos emerge of Carabinero police indiscriminately beating, shooting, arresting, tear gassing, stripping, and running over unarmed civilians. Every day people are taking to the streets of Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción and other major cities to bang pots and pans, blow whistles and shout from their balconies or patios that Piñera is a murderer and dictator, and that the police are torturers and rapists. Every day, people are organizing local assemblies to discuss solutions for their neighborhoods, schools and work environments.

Piñera’s approval rating plummeted to 9.6 percent with disapproval reaching 85 percent.

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