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[Columna de Opinión] Reacting to Chile’s Recent Social Unrest: Observations from Afar

Por: Lona Gqiza, egresado del Magíster en Política y Gobierno.

When people are dissatisfied, they sometimes find violent means to demonstrate their frustration, this leads to social unrest. In recent times, there have been a number of social unrest cases across the world, from Bolivia, Colombia, France with the ‘Yellow Vests Movement’ to violent protests for democracy in Hong Kong. This piece focuses on the recent social unrest case in Chile from a world perspective.

The recent social unrest in Chile was sparked by a hike in metro fares, these protests had a domino effect which turned into nation wide protests against the military and President Sebastián Piñera, essentially the policies that the country adopted. Although Chile has recorded a 2.5 percent growth rate of GDP, there are social indicators that demonstrate inequality. Social indicators such as health, education and pensions favor the rich and rather exclude the poor population from participation. The recent marches indicate that the people want a system that recognizes the needs of not only the rich, but the poor.

Chileans have been demonstrating for years for causes such as access to free and quality education and an improved pension system amongst others. The protests became a recurring exercise over the years, at some point something was bound to happen. The main question is; did the Chilean government not see this coming? If it did, what mechanisms did it put in place to combat the situation?

Chile has been a time ticking bomb for several years, the current ongoing protests can be summed up as ‘the day the bomb finally exploded’. On a positive note, once the bomb has completely exploded, there comes an opportunity for the people to recreate a society that represents them fully.

When a crisis occurs, the government should always react in a swift and effective manner. From a view from afar, the Chilean government seems to have used excessive force and violence to fight the protesters. This in-turn has become a fight between the people and the government. Secondly, the President has not communicated effectively with the people and the international community, placing the country in a very critical position. At the recent COP25, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera attributed the social unrest to a successful growth not being accessible to all. 

Unfortunately, the continuing protests negatively affect the economy of Chile. Any crisis results in a political risk for investors and eventually investors pull money out in fear of loss. This is worrying because the withdrawal of investment might itself worsen domestic economic ills of Chile. It can even create a hostile environment for a long period of time as foreign direct investment is important for the creation of jobs and the growth of the economy.

It is obvious that the economy will take a hit when something this impactful occurs. There are two quotes from Frantz Fanon’s 1961 book “The Wretched of the Earth” that summarize the ordeal perfectly. The first is “when we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe”. This quote best describes the feelings of the Chilean citizens on the ground. Judging from experience, Chilean people are very patriotic and would never work together to ruin their own country. The riots are a result of years of soft oppression by the government. It is a case where the vulnerable feel it is time to fight back and demonstrate their unhappiness. As Frantz Fanon puts it, it is a time when people can no longer breathe. They cannot take the suffering any longer.

The second quote that stands out from Frantz Fanon’s book is “each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity”. Basically, this quote suggests that each generation has its own problems that need to be addressed. It is then up to the people to address the problems. In this regard, Chileans have decided to fight for what they feel is an injustice to them. Secondly, the protests are largely led by the young because they want to shape their future and are unafraid to go against the status quo. The elderly experienced and fought the dictatorship. They dealt with the system and that allowed the future generations to experience freedom.

The Chilean citizens have spoken, now it is up to the government to do what is right for not only the current generation, but for future generations, placing Chile the country at the epicenter. The country is at a very vulnerable state at this point, it is important to make decisions that will not come back to haunt the country in the years to come. The international community also needs to intervene with efficiency when the basic human rights of people are infringed. It is without a doubt that Chile will eventually find a progressive trajectory, it has too much potential not to do so.

Las opiniones presentadas son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no representan, necesariamente, el pensamiento de nuestro Programa de Magíster.

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