“Education is not for sale”
The recent, collected activism of Chile’s dedicated and ambitious students and young adults stands in confident contradiction to the nation’s recently-earned reputation as a stable and relatively representative democracy in Latin America.
Chile has overcome in recent decades a socially devastating state of political and social polarization, foreign interference (yes, that was us, America!), and abhorrent war crimes by both leftist and right-wing authoritarian leaders. Despite these setbacks, Chile is now considered an acceptable example of a successful democracy among the formerly-colonized Latin American nations.
This rising generation of Chilean students, however, is actively seeking a more socially equitable system for their country. These students and their peers have displayed both justified obstinance and pointed ambition in their demands for social and economic equality, especially concerning today’s inequitable accessibility to higher education and healthcare for the less-privileged individuals and families in Chile. This struggle has manifested as a uniting force, with participation from students of all socioeconomic classes, and generally without partisan ties to any one political party.
These students and supporters not only are combating systematic negligence to their cause but have been victims of widespread police brutality during protests. The police are known to fire pellets and tear gas directly into the faces of demonstrators. Dozens of these young adults have lost an eye due to the excessively forceful measures by law enforcement, and these policing tactics of Chile’s law enforcement have completely blinded dozens.
Is this democracy??
Despite its progress in the last few decades, this culturally rich nation remains haunted by the historically turbulent political regimes of the twentieth century. Most notably are the administration under the democratically-elected socialist Allende and his American-sponsored successor, the fascist dictatorship of Pinochet. Chilean citizens under 30 years of age today were born after Pinochet’s far-right and authoritarian regime, and are not afraid to confront their political leaders for social and civil progress. Their movement exhibits the rampant dissatisfaction among Chile’s adult youth with the strain on society caused by severe economic inequality between the upper and lower classes, and with the pervasive opportunity gap resulting from this divide. The Chilean youth and emerging adults have thus far refused to be complacent with the current administration’s inattention and apathy to their need and desire for affordable academic opportunities and healthcare services. Their shared aspirations for quality public healthcare alongside the economic, social, and intellectual advancement offered by universities and colleges, drive their collective activism. The lower-income population of the country is mostly excluded from these accommodations and services, and citizens are uniting across socioeconomic classes to protest this systematic inequality.
Healthcare and education programs suffer under Chile’s current economic model, which, since the era of Pinochet’s dictatorship, relies heavily on the private sector to provide institutions for these services and public amenities. So far, President Piñera has maintained the neoliberal economic structure, and this system has only made the wealthy, richer, and the lower-classes, poorer. This income divide is destructive to a potentially fair and representative democracy, and these new generations of social activists have proved that they will not settle for or be restrained by inadequacies or economic discrimination in their education, healthcare, or political efficacy.
The political activism of Chile’s student protestors for improved and financially accessible higher education and healthcare is an essential and relatable display of the natural human drive and desire to achieve a wholly responsive and effective democracy with equitable access to individual and community progress. These students furthermore emphasize a democracy’s need for a participatory and informed constituency to combat social and economic inequalities.
Affordable healthcare is a basic need for everyone in a society; that is clear enough. It is also not unreasonable to argue, that with the last decades’ transition into a global and technology-based economy, higher education is also necessary for the advancement of individuals and their greater communities. Thus, access to these services should be a priority of a functioning society and its governing administration.
According to Dahl, a true democracy must be based on the government’s responsiveness to its citizens’ needs, and there must be avenues for citizens to organize and express their needs to their government, such as these students in Chile are attempting to accomplish now. Drawing directly from Dahl’s 1972 publication, to meet the basic standards of the author’s definition of a legitimate democracy, the public must be able to formulate and signify their preferences. Their preferences should furthermore be “weighed equally in the conduct of the government […] weighted with no discrimination because of the content or source of the preferences.”
The protesters in Chile have clearly and courageously signified their preference for affordable and quality education and healthcare, but will the government respond to the demands of this ambitious generation? The Chilean government has so far offered certain concessions such as increased pensions, in its attempt to placate the protestors and avoid further civilian-police violence –which has already left over 20 dead and well over a thousand injured, including those with eye injuries.
The Piñera government announced its immediate plan to increase government-subsidized pensions by 20 percent, raise the minimum wage to 350,000 pesos monthly, the equivalent of $440 in U.S. dollars, and the administration also canceled the recent increase in electricity bills. He also moved to cut the costs of medicines for the elderly in Chile. However, the students see these efforts as being too little, too late, and the protests only became increasingly more explosive.
Protesting has become a part of daily life for many of Chile’s young adults. The government’s measures still fall short of the protestor’s demands which range from higher pensions and free education to the end of capitalism and the removal of the current center-right president. A rewrite of the entire constitution, which was drafted in 1980 under Pinochet, will almost certainly be approved in the coming months, but the public remains distrustful.
In Chile today, these young activists seek the fundamental democratic value of social capital, as they act to hold their leaders accountable for trust, reciprocity, and cooperation between the government and its citizens. These students are collectively exercising their expression of social capital to transform public policy for a common cause. Democracy depends on trust, reciprocity, and cooperation between a government and its people. Now, this generation of Chileans has taken a courageous and democratic stand to set a new precedent for equality and communal progress in their country and across the modernized world.
So, Chile… Are you listening?
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/chile-protests-students-woke-191127175718386.html https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/23/chile-upheaval-protests-model-muddle-free-market/ https://www.npr.org/2020/01/11/795514808/protests-in-chile https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/chile-is-preparing-to-rewrite-its-constitution-why-are-people-still-protesting/2020/02/01/eb7ee6b2-43cc-11ea-99c7-1dfd4241a2fe_story.html