As the international media has announced, a social crisis broke out in Chile triggered by the increase in the value of the metro on October 6, 2019. No one could have suspected that this would be the drop that would overflow the glass. However, a review of the history of the twentieth century reveals that the increase in costs of basic services in a country is one of the biggest sources of national discontent that can occur. When added to other discomforts, a society can show its hardest side and rebel against those they consider the culprits.
If we make a short summary of the crisis, the protests erupted in a country that was leading in Latin America as the outstanding student of the class–economically, in the reduction of poverty, and in per capita income–we might think that there was no reason for this outburst.
But a closer look at the average GDP per person, reveals a data that does not accurately represent what Chileans earn. And I condense it, here, with a phrase from the famous Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, who says in one of his writings: “There are two loaves of bread. You eat two. I get none. Average consumption: one bread per person.”
This is what happened in Chile. Inequality was disguised in simple statistical data, but without considering that there was a giant income difference between those who earned a lot and those who had almost nothing.
Inequality Led to Two Types of Protests:
It began with the non-payment of the subway ticket with people jumping over the gates. It continued with the organization of diverse groups, some organizing in peaceful protests, and others, into more radical ones, resulting in extreme phenomena, such as the burning of subway stations, the looting and setting of supermarkets on fire, and the breaking and destruction of society icons, such as monuments, churches and state powers.
In a reactive manner, a plan was developed to protect civil citizenship from these events. But at the same time, a State of Emergency was declared. This action entailed sending the military to the streets to confront the most radical groups that generated the problems.
Because of the memories of what happened in the 1973 military coup, seeing the military in the streets is a very uncomfortable site for most Chileans. To add to that, there have been several deaths related to the protests that are being investigated by the Chilean justice system and by human rights organizations visiting our country.
After four weeks, and after this crisis spread nationwide with very negative socio-economic consequences to which added the emergence of fear as a daily phenomenon, the government finally sat at the table with a large number of political figures with similar tendencies, and also with members of the opposition. The intention was to reach a peaceful agreement quickly and to detain this crisis.
As a response, the government took the following steps: They stopped the rise in public transport. This was followed by the acceleration of a tax reform that taxed the richest, and that resulted in a tax collection of two billion dollars; next, was an increase in the minimum wage from 302,000 to 350,000 pesos per month ($378 to $438 dollars per month). The guaranteed basic pension was also raised, which would initially improve for 20% of the elderly considered at greatest social risk, but is now approaching 50%, due to the latest pressures from all sectors of society.
People needed measures that really tackled the flaws on which the Chilean economic model was designed. This time, the compass was aimed at another north, one that was not the neoliberal market. For this reason, practically the entire community has participated in a movement for reform, led by more than one man, or a single political party or a foreign organization. The community as a whole has expressed itself explicitly through continuous marches that ask for a change to the model of how Chile has been structured. The people did not want a reform to the Constitution of the Republic of Chile, as the government initially offered, but a change to the current Constitution where all Chileans participate through valid representation. What is being proposed is not representation through a political party, but a kind of a constituent assembly.
At 2:30 in the morning of Friday, November 15, Senate President, Jaime Quintana, announced the signing of the “Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution,” which involved 11 political parties of the ruling party and the opposition. This agreement states that on April 2020, two consultations will be carried out at the national level. The first, will ask whether or not Chileans agree with a change to the Constitution; and the second, will address the type of procedure to be carried out in the event of such approval. The considerations will propose whether a Constituent Convention will be formed by 100% of elected delegates, or through a Joint Constituent Convention, which would be made up of 50% of current parliamentarians, and 50% of elected delegates. In addition, it was agreed that two thirds of those convened would be required for decision-making by the constituent body.
After reaching this agreement, our country experienced a turning point. The next day, the dollar fell in record numbers; the national markets recovered a significant part of their losses, and international markets were reassured regarding risk assessments they considered this last month.
But, Now What?
The change to the Constitution is not enough by itself, since, Chile will be voting on whether it does or does not want a new Constitution. After that, some time will elapse, as a new document will need to be drafted that embodies equality of opportunity and a more fair Chilean model.
What is left for Chile today?
Other negotiating committees are meeting to address such radical issues as the urgency to increase Chilean pensions, and radical changes needed in health coverage, especially, the significant reduction in the price of medicines and the cancellation of interest on credit debts for college students who have not been able to pay their debts. These meetings are being held and they intend to get these points addressed shortly (a couple of months at most).
Parliamentarians have lowered 50% of their monthly income, since their salaries were very high, compared to the country’s average income. For these reasons, and although the country has not fully returned to its daily patterns, public transportation has reopened with much of its normal routes. Commerce, supermarkets and jobs are already returning to the routines of a country that works tirelessly. But people remain expectant. They will not rest from peacefully marching until the last signed promise has been addressed.
And who would have said that the symbol of our National Shield, which in 1812 declared that Chile would earn its own independence from Spain, through reason or through the exercise of force if necessary, would become the symbol of what people today interpret as a different type of battle, the fight for “independence from economic power.”
Juan Manuel Henríquez, is a Chilean professor of mathematics, and as professor of religion and morality. Henríquez obtained a Master’s degree in Educational Management at the Metropolitan University of Education Sciences (UMCE). He took courses in solving mathematical problems at the Complutense University of Madrid, and educational applications at the Catholic University of Chile. Each year he is improving himself in the different areas that make up his professional profile in recognized universities of the country. He is interested in maintaining contact with professionals in education and management; giving and participating in contributions to exchange ideas, and generate projects that can make education a fundamental role in the growth of people. Between 2014 and 2015, he volunteered as a teacher to help admit vulnerable students to higher education. Between 2016 and May 2018, he served as an Academic Coordinator of the EFIES (Training School for Higher Education Income), “Forming Chile” corporation (non-profit). As of June of this year, he is part of the Advisory Board of the same entity. Currently, he works at the Cumbres de Santiago School (since 2005), where he is a head teacher, with math classes and PSU, in secondary education.