Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Understanding the protests in Chile

If you want to understand the implications of the protests in Chile, I recommend Kirsten Sehnbruch and Sofia Donoso's article here at Open Democracy.  The argument is basically what Silvia Borzutzky and I argued in our edited volume.  This is a key paragraph:

The problem behind the present-day citizen discontent is that the same conditions which ensured Chile’s socioeconomic success and political stability also explain the inability of politicians to improve Chile’s historically persistent inequality. The very path initiated by the Concertación governments, now adopted by the Piñera administration, has defined new challenges to which neither the right nor the left have been able to respond. If anything, the mobilizations of the last months have been a reminder of the fact that responses such as “no congressional majority”, “not politically feasible”, or, “insufficient resources” are not credible any more. The legitimizing discourses that accompanied the elite-led transition to democracy, defined the boundaries of democratization, and provided an appeasement mechanism for social demands for greater equality, have been exhausted. At the same time, the most negative effects of neoliberal reform are now evident. So, as the successes of the Concertación have not been accompanied by any significant reduction of inequality, cultural breaches have been unearthed. The clanging of pots in many middle class neighbourhoods over the last weeks show that an important part of the Chilean public is unwilling to excuse the lack of deeper reform and limited popular input as simply a necessary condition for maintaining the delicate power balance that characterized the transition. And although the government removed the Minister of Education and has presented several reform proposals,  most Chileans agree with the students and consider these measures to be insufficient (La Tercera survey). 

As we noted in the book, this had been bubbling up for quite some time and had a considerable and negative impact politically on the Concertación.  It seems the change to a center-right government was the proverbial straw to break the camel's back.


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