In recent weeks, Chile has witnessed some of the largest protests in its modern history, along with some of the worst examples of brutal government repression since the Pinochet military dictatorship ended in 1990. Student protests in opposition to a government-imposed 3 percent hike in subway fares in early October triggered a nationwide protest movement demanding economic and political change to address the nation’s extreme economic inequality.
Despite the mostly peaceful protests, acts of vandalism and looting led the government of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera to declare a state of emergency on Oct. 18. At least 20 people have died in clashes between police and protesters. Although the government withdrew the fare hike, protests have continued and grown, culminating in a massive march in the nation’s capital Santiago of more than 1 million people from across all sectors of Chilean society on Oct. 25. The unrest has resulted in the cancellation of two international gatherings in Chile, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference and the U.N.’s 2019 Climate Summit.
Despite Piñera’s shakeup of his cabinet and the promise of an increase in pensions, affordable health care, lowering the price of medicine and stabilizing electricity rates, continuing protests have called for the president resign. Protesters are also demanding that Chile’s current Pinochet-era constitution be rewritten by a participatory constitutional assembly, laying the foundation for fundamental social change. Between The Line’s Scott Harris spoke with Jose Ragas, assistant rofessor at the Instituto de Historia at Chile’s Catholic University in Santiago. Here, he discusses the economic conditions that led to militant protests against inequality and demands for change in Chile.