Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has imposed restrictions to civil rights due to the mass demonstrations in the streets of Santiago. Social mobilizations and meetings are banned with soldiers in the streets.
It is a scene reminiscent of the years of the dictatorship. Using fear and intimidation, in a nationwide TV and radio broadcast, Pinera declared the State of Emergency in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago in an attempt to suffocate the social unrest due to an arbitrary increase on public transport fares, specifically the subway system. General Javier Iturriaga has been appointed “chief of the national security” and he will be in charge of Santiago de Chile for 15 days. The state of emergency bans the right of public gatherings, mobilizations, the right to protest, and it entails soldiers to carry out duties of the police.
This author is still wet after being a victim of the water cannons used by the Carabineros Special Forces, who are launching a liquid mix of irritating tear gas with unknown toxins, meanwhile protests are still resounding against the hated government in countless communities of the Metropolitan Region.
What we are witnessing is not only high school or college students or the resistance of the indigenous Mapuche nation this time. Protests against the increase of the Santiago subway system started on October 11 and it rapidly spread into to a massive expression of discontent that has only been observed during the protests against the dictatorship in the eighties. Let’s not mistake the massiveness mentioned here with the levels of organized violence under the years in which the tyrant Pinochet was still ruling. The quality of the struggle carried out now, by such a wide variety of social sectors, represents the peaceful disobedience of people and citizens.
The immediate cause of the Santiago citizens’ awakening was the second hike in a row this year in one of the most expensive subway fares in the world. This resulted in young students carrying out “mass fare-dodging” protests. This means jumping over turnstiles to evade paying the expensive fares. This practice rapidly spread and subway stations became police posts and barracks.
Subway workers union chief Eric Campos said “The problem is the fare hike. We share the legitimacy of the demand against the fare hike in the Transantiago (underground system). We think it’s time for the Government to take the Carabineros out of the stations and set up a negotiating table with workers and students.”
Campos said that, “consecutive fare hikes during the last years have been made at the whims of Transit Minister Gloria Hutt. She is buying electric buses but refuses to put it out for competitive bidding required by new regulations of the Transantiago. These fare hikes are being paid by the fathers and mothers of those students who are today protesting because they see that their wages are not enough,” and he added that “out of 810 pesos ($1.2) paid for the fares in the Subway, the company is receiving not more than 490 pesos. So the difference in the hike is going to fund the failed Transantiago transportation plan, now called the Mobilization Network.”
The Transantiago is a private bus transport system created under the socialist Ricardo Lagos Administration at the beginning of the 21 century which underwent a series of transformations and financial scandals. When a user pays a subway fare, at the same time he is paying to cover the costs of the poor Transantiago management.
Concerning the prices of the subway system, the union leader proposed to set an “affordable social fare.” According to Campos, “it is not fair that the amount paid by users in Santiago adds up to 15 percent of a net minimum wage. The millionaire subsidies imposed on the Transantiago means that the high fare is going to the ride and paying off the subsidy too. It is time to nationalize public transportation.”
The truth is that the subway fare hike was the straw that broke the camel’s back and worked as a real kick starter for the social unrest towards a wide range of nonexistent social and human rights in Chile. Contrary to the “country’s attractive image” portrayed by neo liberal marketing to attract investors of extractivism and financial businesses, the Chilean society in fact has average wages that are not sufficient to make ends meet, a phenomenon that is turning the domestic debt into a tragedy of never-ending installments.
Seeking to keep and increase the profit rate of the large oligopolies and monopolies operating in Chile, informal employment has exponentially increased, as well as accidents and diseases related to poor labor conditions and wages. What broke out on October 18, the blocking of the main arterial road into Santiago, together with the massive not-payment of the subway, has been the scenario for protests facing off against the repression of the Chilean police, which has been revealing fascist features, with the process of the militarization of the Carabineros, a brutal force launched in the eighties and perfected under civil governments.
Images of primarily young people getting shot, beaten up, detained and arrested are still taking place, showing that despite the repression the energy of the demonstrations has not stopped.
There is no doubt that forcefully opposing the political administration, in a country that a couple of days ago seemed like a sea of tranquility, is going to make everyone take notice including Wall Street and the halls of the International Monetary Fund. Chile’s current instability will raise questions about its “reliability” for investors but it will also encourage others in the region who are struggling against the neo liberal model run by subservient administrators while they impoverish the people.
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