The Awakening of Chile
BY JOAN RYAN ESTAY
Chile was a pressure cooker that has just exploded, its eruption began when the subway fares were raised by $30 pesos, an equivalent of $0.40 cents and with the Minister of Economy, Andrés Fontaine, telling the Chileans: “Those who get up early will get a lower fare.” This created discontent among the people and on October 15th, the students decided to protest by not paying subway fares.
This created a domino effect when the Chilean population grew tired of waiting for the government to do something about health, education, pensions, and government pay inequality ($415 per month compared to $12,000 USD for legislators and senators). The population has demanded a change to this situation in the past, marches have been going on for years in different regions of the country. The government knew full well what the issues affecting its citizens are.
This is not something new and is not the fault of this government alone. Chile is based on a constitution written in the 1980s during a military dictatorship. One of the most serious examples of this collective discontent are the famous AFP (Pension Fund Administrators), created mainly by José Piñera (brother of the current President Sebastián Piñera) during said dictatorship. In such pensions, workers are required to pay 10% of their monthly salary for a future retirement, disability or survival pension and another percentage to the administration of the AFPs. At retirement, workers typically receive less than half the minimum wage, with people sometimes receiving only $15 per month. Retiring because of a disability is nearly impossible. It is an embarrassing, unsustainable system that impoverishes the elderly population of the country.
The domino effect began with students refusing to pay the subway fares and continued with the burning of 7 subway stations and outbursts and attacks to public institutions the following days. Because of these events, the government declared a state of emergency, sending the military to the streets and established a curfew to establish order.
Chile has lived through this before, and the current situation has brought back memories to many residents. To make matters worse, the President acknowledged that he was at war with a powerful enemy, his own people. The people of Chile say they do not have anything to lose anymore and continues to protest daily throughout the country. The marches and the demands to get the military off the streets have been worldwide. Last Friday, October 25, the “largest march in Chile” was organized gathering more than a million people and demanding change to a government that has given them crumbs for years.
Chileans are asking to live with dignity. It is time for their government not only to listen, but to act fast. Chileans have woken up, are not afraid and will not fall asleep again.