In 1988, Chile was promised glory through the implementation of a neoliberal economy as it transitioned from a military dictatorship to a democracy. From then on, society began its own fragmentation and the new system fed inequality. Up until three weeks ago, Chileans had been subjected to a life in which everything was privatized.
Chileans are highly charged for education and health, as well as electricity and water supply. The public pension system had been destroyed, and the workers’ movement marginalized, while capitalist accumulation keeps profiting from the extraction of raw materials. According to the New York Times, however, it was an increase of 30 pesos in the subway fare that acted as the last drop to spill the cup.
Weary of the abuses, feeling abandoned and in anguish, one million Chileans took their mass frustration to the streets of Santiago to protest. People from all socioeconomic statuses joined the movement for improvements in the standards of living of the indebted and impoverished majority. To this, however, President Pinera’s immediate response was repression. Ignoring the voices of his people, he chose a military intervention that only fueled the ongoing fire.
Through his actions, not only were peaceful protesters shut down by the police, but a systematic violation of the rights of all people took place. Whether people protested or not, the government allowed the murder, injury, and abuse of many. The National Institute for Human Rights registered almost 100 cases of torture and sexual abuse since the protests started. According to the Association of Feminist Lawyers (ABOFEM), there have been more than 15 women who have been sexually abused or raped by police officers or soldiers.
Beyond being unconstitutional, what President Piñera has done is inhumane. To respond to people’s freedom of speech with brutal violence, justifying the attempts against their dignity to regain order is absurd. People went out to the streets to protest the fact that Chileans are dying in hospitals, unable to receive medical treatment because of the high prices, or drowning in massive debts. But how did Piñera respond? With the death of twenty people, and injury of one thousand.
Piñera’s actions have been soft on the rich, and hard on the poor. He might have thought that by kindly asking his cabinet to resign, justice would be brought back to Chileans. Instead, he gave them a gateway. In addition, amidst the on-going petition to receive further government aid to cover the high costs of medicine and utilities, what does his government do? They announce a package of measures for small and medium-sized businesses hit by the unrest, Reuters stated, that will give them financial aid and tax deductions. Instead of addressing how he will enact his so-called “new social reform” to reduce inequality, he once again chooses to prioritize the powerful over the impoverished masses.
These brutalities cannot be blindly disregarded. It is not enough to ask for forgiveness and make empty promises of higher pensions, higher taxes for the rich and pay cuts for politicians. Piñera did not stand by the people’s side before the eruption had started, and now his legitimacy is gone. Chileans should not be blamed for no longer trusting that the president will do anything to help them. It is too late.
“It’s not about 30 Pesos, is about 30 years” protesters shout out loud in Plaza Italia. This rhetoric shows that the spontaneous uprising that the nation is witnessing is a simple cry for help. It is a desperate attempt to find a political alternative.
As a democracy, Chileans should be able to raise their voices and demand that Piñera steps down. As of now, according to International Business Times, his reforms show 84 percent of the population’s disapproval. Despite a congressional bid to remove him from office for systematic human rights violations during the protests, Piñera shamelessly rejected the move. Despite this, the people insist they will not back down until a change is made. After all, not only did Chile wake up, but it stood up to demand a dignified life for each, as human beings they are.