26 October 2019   Leave a comment

About a million protesters gathered in the streets of Santiago, Chile, to protest the rising economic inequality in the country. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera won a significant victory in 2017, but he has presided over an economy which has failed to bring economic benefits to to lower and middle classes. His policies have been described as neo-liberal, and Jacobin fleshes out the meaning of that word in Chile’s case:

“Despite its reputation as a relatively wealthy Latin American country, Chilean society is deeply divided between the rich and poor. Income inequality is worse in Chile than in any other OECD nation. Meanwhile, public services ranging from the pension system to water remain privatized — as much a legacy of the Pinochet years as the 1980 constitution and the state of emergency.

“’Economically, Chile continues to do the same thing it’s been doing for twenty years, namely following an extractivist model, which relies heavily on copper but also has to do with forestry, fisheries, etc.,’ explains Emilia Ríos Saavedra, a Revolución Democrática (a member party of Frente Amplio) militant and city councilor in Ñuñoa, a suburb of Santiago. ‘This creates a tension and a feeling of helplessness where the political system cannot respond. There is no capacity on the one hand, and on the other hand, the political and economic elites, above all, are not capable of thinking about the larger needs of the country.’”

The protests have been largely peaceful but there are reports of police brutality and injuries to the protesters. The government has responded with a curfew and plans to roll back a planned increase in metro fares. But it seems as if the issues are deeper and more intractable.

There have been a very large number of protests in the world recently: Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Lebanon, Iraq, Hong Kong, Catalonia, Egypt, Bolivia, and the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, Paris, and the US. The question that has surfaced is the extent to which there is a common thread to the protests. There are three themes that seem to be common: economic inequality, corruption, and climate change.

Fareed Zakaria has an opinion on the protests.

“At first glance, the politics of each of these movements seems quite distinct. But they are all occurring against a worrisome backdrop: a collapse of economic growth. Over the past year, the International Monetary Fund has sharply cut its estimate for 2019, warning that ‘the global economy is in a synchronized slowdown,’ growing at ‘its slowest pace since the global financial crisis.’

“When growth collapses, anxieties rise, especially among the middle class who feel squeezed, get enraged by corruption and inequality, and have the capacity to voice their anger. Consider Chile, where a subway fare hike has led to the worst street violence in decades. The unrest is happening, however, in an atmosphere of diminished expectations. Not long ago, Chile was the star economy of Latin America, growing at 6 percent in the 1990s and 4 percent in the 2000s. Over the past five years, growth has averaged 2 percent . The IMF cut its estimate for Latin America as a whole from 2 percent to 0.2 percent in the past year.”

We shall see if the protests stimulate cross-border alliances among the protesters. The Arab Spring offers a possible analog.

Posted October 26, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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