As Carl Sagan stated, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” This is especially true for Chile. After 17 dark years Chile became a country in which democracy functions well, citizens have expanded civil rights and liberties, media is free, and the economy is strong. Despite the setbacks of the governments and the dissatisfactions and demonstrations of its citizens at certain times, Chile has handled the conflicts and remained a peaceful democracy until 2019. Why did the things become reversed? Why did Chile become a country in which protests never end, the president declares a war against his own citizens, the citizens’ rights and liberties are restricted?
When the military coup of September 11 1973 overthrew the first democratically-elected Marxist president in Chile’s history, Salvador Allende, a dictatorial military regime came to power. During 17-year fascist regime of Augusto Gen. Pinochet, there were no opposition parties, unions or media anymore. Chilean Judiciary watched and did nothing at the time thousands of Chilean people were tortured and executed(including Allende). Even though in 1990 Chile made the transition to representative democracy with the election of Patricio Aylwin as the new president, the constitution written by Pinochet has remained unchanged.
The income inequality, the outdated constitution, the power of the Chilean youth to confront the government, and in return, the president’s violent response to the demonstrations are the fundamental driving forces behind the ongoing issues in Chile:
The Chilean youth, today, with heightened awareness towards politics, has the ability and courage to line up against inequality and injustice as a consequence of the bad experiences experimented by the old generations who could not do the same and had been a target to abuse, torture and murder. Therefore, Chilean youth did not hesitate to protest the increase in Santiago metro fares in 2019. Even though the long-standing demonstrations seem to be a result of the ticket prices, the motive behind the activism is deeper and much more significant. The student protests in Chile have been repeated several times. On the one hand in 2006 the student protests turned into a national strike in which more than a million students were involved. Those young people were demanding free use of public transport and lower fees for college entrance exams. On the other hand in 2011 the demand of students from Piñera’s government was to increase the funding and quality of public schools. The common ground was the Pinochet-era policies combined with the Chile’s retroactive economic model that puts the required public services in the hands of private entities with little supervision or control of government. Therefore, since the Pinochet-era, the academic programs and healthcare services have failed to satisfy the requests and needs of the Chilean youth. Protesters were challenging not only the educational system, but also the economic and social model of Chile.
Unfortunately, Piñera has responded to the protests, initially triggered by the rise in metro fares, with violence. Piñera’s violent response to the protests by use of police and military forces, thus declaring a war against his own citizens has resulted in torture, thousands of injuries, sexual abuse and civilian deaths. Piñera has used his constitutionally-gained executive authority to impose a national emergency, mobilizing security forces to deter public acts in drastic ways, and revoking his citizen’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly. Because the constitution has not changed since the dictatorship of Pinochet, the civil rights and liberties of citizens are still restricted and Chilean people are living in an eroding democratic environment where challenging the mandates of the government often results in retaliation by physical violence.
Chilean demonstrations represent the government’s loss of authority despite the authoritative measures taken. In recognition of this loss, Piñera took precautions. He changed the cabinet and replaced many ministers with younger and more accommodating names. He announced that he will pledge to rise minimum income by 20 percent and expand the federal payout to the middle classes. He cut prices of medicines for lower classes and guaranteed a minimum wage of $480 a month. He also introduced a new tax for the upper classes and wage deduction for lawmakers and public officials. The government agreed on the fact that it is the time to rewrite the constitution. Up to the present, the citizens -especially the young generation- have found pledges of the government insufficient and too late. Unless the citizens, who want a fundamental change in Chile’s current socioeconomic model, and the government, which is unwilling or unable to accept their demands, reach a common ground; the conflicts will continue in Chile. As long as the conflicts continue the probability of the intervention of other states under the name of ‘’providing the peace’’ increases. Chilean people, who took a lesson from the past should not give way to other powers to intervene their domestic affairs.
1. https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/chiles-student-protests 2. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/11/18/chileans-learned-the-right-lessons-after-the-pinochet-era/