Chile: “The biggest crisis since the return of democracy”

An increase in ticket prices for local transport by 30 pesos (equivalent to just under 40 Euro cents) was decisive for the unrest that is currently taking place in many places in Chile. Trigger, or just the last straw that breakst he camel’s back? After all that I‘ve heard, the latter is true. The social injustice in the country has long affected many Chileans.

Whole families seem to split after the riots in the country. Also the extended part of my host family. Some demand that all the perpetrators of violence be murdered immediately. The country doesn‘t need such a thing. “Finally, something happens,” says the other part, who finds that many things were endured too long. But many agree: violence is not a good way to shake up the government.
Wake up yes, but not by destruction, looting, murder.

I refer here to what media in Germany and in-site report. On the assessments of my German-Chilean host family, their relatives, friends and acquaintances in Santiago. Chile is considered the most stable among the South American countries. According to reports, economic growth this year is estimated at 2.5 percent. Apart from theft and the risk of earth- and seaquakes, which emanates from the many active volcanoes, the country is considered a fairly safe travel destination.

Maladministration in Chile is obvious
But large parts of the population are dissatisfied. Chile has the highest per capita income in South America. However, more than half of the Chileans live off the minimum wage. That’s 300,000 pesos a month. With what is less than 400 Euros a month one can‘t get far. Prices in supermarkets and restaurants are comparable with German level, also the rents.

Under President Sebastián Piñera, the situation in the country has deteriorated, they say. People have to waitt for a year to get a doctor’s appointment. People who need help quickly die. Electricity prices have just been increased by ten percent across the country, and at the beginning of the year prices for local transport had increased. Crucial to the current protests was a further increase in Metro prices by 30 pesos. This doesn‘t seem like much. But those who live on less than 400 Euros per month and have to use the metro to work are fighting for their existence.

Protests at first peacefully
According to the sister of my hostess, who lives in Santiago, the protests started peacefully. Students had wanted to draw attention to the grievances with concerts and music. After the renewed increase in the metropolitan areas, they were, according to media reports, simply hopping over the turnstiles and dodged the fare. Peaceful protest.

In the course of Friday, the mood was obviously tilted. Pictures in the media show burning buses and destroyed metro stations as well as fighting on the streets. The government declared a state of emergency for Santiago. The fact that President Piñera has withdrawn the price increase for Metrotickets in Santiago after the first night of violence could have sent a wrong signal. Namely that violence can really make a difference. The history of the country shows that the people were always able to effect change in the country through violence – but never with lasting success.

Local, long-distance and air traffic stand still
On Saturday, the situation worsened. There were violent demonstrations in many major cities. Around 60 supermarkets were looted and partly lit. People died and there were more than 1,500 arrested. Around 9,400 soldiers are said to be deployed, as media sources refer to the Ministry of Defense. The public transport in Santiago stands still, most of the long-distance bus lines do not drive to the Chilean capital, at the airport there is chaos. In addition to Santiago and Valparaíso, nocturnal curfews rule in other cities. According to media reports, there were rallies in Santiago last night, even after curfews started.

Form me it’s hard to understand why peaceful protests have become violent. My Spanish is bad, which makes research on the Internet more difficult. Parts of my host family believe that the communists are behind the violence. A photo of President Piñera in the media showing him with his family in an upscale restaurant while chaos reigns in Santiago might suggest this. Or maybe the picture simply shows the media’s interest in knowing what the president is doing while his country is protesting against his government.

Long pent-up anger
My host family also believes that many demonstrators don‘t know what it is all about. Long pent-up anger against the system or even over personal things seem to come out with the demonstrations. “It’s the system that sproduces violence,” read a poster that students in Temuco, where I currently reside, were wearing at a rally. It‘s a question of responsibility: the government certainly carries the responsibility for the abuses in the country. But the demonstrators themselves are responsible for their violent actions.

An acquaintance in Santiago, where I wanted to stay during my stay, is a journalist. He speaks of the biggest crisis Chile has experienced since the return of democracy. Since 1987 there has been no curfew in Santiago. No one knows how the situation will develop in the next days. Some organizations called for a national strike on Monday. Schools, shops, museums and Co. would remain closed. At least one metro line should be active today. However, the employees have stressed that they are afraid to go to work. Understandable.

Fear of supply shortages
Closed shops cause further problems. My host’s sister who lives in Santiago can’t buy milk for her byb right now. However, she’s been able to find out where she can get some elsewhere. It seems like there’s kind of a black market developing. She also reports about long lines at gas stations. From neighbors we have heard that the supermarkets in Temuco are full of people. Apperently, there’s a fear of supply shortages.

My journalist friend speaks of a dangerous cocktail: a stubborn government, angry people, looting in some parts of Santiago, and violence against the demonstrations by the police and the military.

It will be a long time before normality reigns in Santiago
It seems to me that the angry part continues to get angry and the rest of the country is following the action from home on the TV waiting to see what happens next. However, people seem to agree that something has to change in the country. Fast. Here, politics is required to perceive, understand and act on people’s concerns. My journalist friend is not optimistic that something will happen soon. A solution will not come quickly and easily, he says. He suspects that the situation in the country will not change in a timely manner. And even if there is a solution, it will take a long time until normality comes back to Santiago and the country. Only one thing seems certain: sustainable solutions can only be achieved through peaceful resistance.

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