What started a year back as protests against the brutal killing of a 24 year old activist by the police in Chile has now taken a sharp turn towards a protest against the rising living costs, inequality of wealth and privatization. Chile has been in the news, with the entire media calling it a violent and brutal protest, some have managed to say it more subtly. With the recent announcement of the congress to form a “100% democratic constitution” that would strive to resolve issues of the so-called “violent and brutal” movement as a “peaceful and democratic exit from the crisis” for the welfare of the people seems to have come from the brutal protests, this begs the question, “Why were they waiting in the first place, if this could be done?”. What is it about these protests that suddenly the ever-honest, neoliberal state grew conscious of the mass, right after the mass had taken to the streets? What is the crisis, in Chile? And what is meant by a peaceful and democratic exit from this crisis?
So, it seems like the crisis that the Chilean government is trying to exit includes the protests instead of the falling value of peso. It seems that the big media houses are all set to portray the protests as the problem which has taken lives instead of the police brutality. It seems that the peaceful and democratic exit “for-the-people, by-the-people government” of Chile plans to halt the fuel price hike as a dog and bone game to steer clear of the mass protests. Only if it were that simple!
There were ongoing protests in different sectors in the country, starting last year, but things took a sharp turn on 14th of October, 2019. In early October a hike of 30 pesos (around 800 pesos equals a dollar as per recent fall of the peso) for subway fare attracted students protesting against the fare hike. The “honest, sublime and welfare government” of Chile, had their minister of economy Juan Andres Fontaine stating, “When the costs rise, there are not many options” and that those who couldn’t pay the fare should wake up early and take the subway as the price rise was only for the rush hour; alas his wise words didn’t resonate with the students. It was then that the “peaceful” police started driving students off the streets “peacefully and calmly” with their water cannons and this sparked the protests which then spread like wildfire and the president declared an emergency. Considering the inevitability of “price madness” in the present neoliberal phase of capitalism, are these another set of temporary reforms to slap across the face of the oppressed when things go out of hand?
The demands have now escalated with the recent devastating fall of pesos in comparison to the mighty dollar. Now the demands of various unions is to bring minimum wage up to 500,000 pesos ($685) from 301,000 pesos ($386). The protests also demand a pension system and ultimately a new constitution instead of revision of the old one. The protesters have also expressed their anger against privatization and have called-on the government demanding more value to human lives than private property and corporate claws in the country.
As of now the congress has expressed its views and agreed to a “100% democratic path” to a new constitution but only with limited participation of the congress. The protesters have now demanded for a constitutional assembly with a wide spectrum of representation for reforming the constitution. This friction from the tug of war could bring about hundreds of band-aid reforms but how will that stop the peso from falling and resolve inequality in the distribution of wealth, rising costs of living and privatization, which were the initial calls of the protests, is the unaddressed question.