Protests in one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries have grabbed headlines of international news in recent weeks. Chile is a nation that has prospered economically and socially since the end of military rule thirty years ago. The country has been a stable presence in a relatively unstable region of the world for decades. However, the underlying issues that Chile has been facing for decades are finally coming forward in the form of protests that are becoming more violent by the day.
What started as peaceful protests over a proposed increase in the prices of public transportation in the capital city of Santiago quickly developed into something much more serious. The protests have evolved into a social movement that is exposing the deep-rooted anger that Chileans have over the inequalities in their country. Chileans are tired of being looked at as a model country in Latin America while they are forced to deal with stagnant wages, high illiteracy rates, a failing healthcare system, and inadequate pensions. The people are rising up against a government that has been content with maintaining inequalities throughout the country. One in three Chileans are employed informally or part-time, while young people and women are having the most difficulty finding sufficient employment. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development has found that the inequality gap in Chile is 65% wider than average developed nations, with one of the largest income gaps between the top 10% and bottom 10% out of any country in the world. Elites are in control of Chile’s increasing wealth due to the fact that large corporations are the only beneficiaries of international trade. Only 2% of small and medium sized businesses trade internationally, while the large corporations dominate the global markets.
Chileans across the country have decided that they will no longer stand for the inequalities that they face. While the majority of protests are happening in Santiago, right on the streets outside of federal government buildings and the presidential house of Sebastián Piñera, protests have also begun across cities nation-wide. Schools have been forced to close, flights have been cancelled throughout the country, and entire sections of cities are paralyzed by the violence. So far, sixteen citizens have died in the protests. The scenes of military forces deployed in the streets invoke imagery of Pinochet’s military rule thirty years ago. The protests in Chile come as a shock to the world, as a nation that seemed secure relative to its neighbors, has become unstable once again. The Chilean protests will undoubtedly contribute to the greater global conversation of societal inequalities and the ever-growing gap between the wealthy and the impoverished.