Monday, October 28, 2019

Sorting Out the Chilean Protests

The social and political explosion in Chile seems on the one hand to be so simple. Academics and activists have been arguing for a long time that the economic model generates inequality, and the political parties have been in disfavor for quite a while.

Lucas Perelló notes that Chile is unequal, economic elites are grabbing whatever they can, and the political establishment doesn't care. Patricio Navia points to "high dependence on copper, high levels of inequality and an increasingly unresponsive and corrupt political system." Pamela Constable, who has reported on Chile for many years and co-authored a very good book on it, calls it "a democracy that has restored political freedom but failed to meet rising expectations of economic fairness." Irina Domurath and Stefano Palestini Céspedes make a similar argument: "While the immediate trigger of the protests was an increase in subway prices, underlying the unrest is a deep social discontent over the results of decades of neoliberal policies."

But none of this explains timing. Protesters call for a constituent assembly, but that's not new either. The 1980 constitution has long been a bone of contention given its authoritarian origin (Google Jaime Guzmán to get a feel for that). Student protests have been happening for years, but not like this. The subway fare increase was a few cents, but it was a straw that broke the camel's back. The difficult is understanding when the camel's had enough, so to speak. From a comparative perspective, this is a huge question.

Therefore we move to solutions. Interestingly, a new constitution won't resolve the economic issues, but it would address the military response. This isn't likely any attack on capitalism per se, but rather a demand for greater attention to working class problems, public transportation being one of many. At least Sebastiám Piñera appears to have changed course, though new elite faces in the cabinet don't necessarily mean real change. There are comparisons to 2013 Brazil, but we need to be careful about that because the political context is quite different: Chile has experienced electoral shifts from left to right and back again, whereas Dilma was president after years of PT rule. And the corruption aspect is less evident in Chile than it was in Brazil. But Piñera needs to put together a broad-based group that will start proposing economic solutions.

Convincing Chileans that you actually care about their problems is no small project. Hopefully this just doesn't devolve into arguments about "populism." Do that too much and you'll end up with more protests.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP