The Right To Live In Peace

Victor Jara was a Chilean teacher, songwriter, singer, poet, and dramatist. His poems and songs were the accompaniment of the social movement that led the socialist Salvador Allende to the presidency of Chile in 1970. In 1973 during the military coup headed by Augusto Pinochet, Allende was killed. A few days later, on September 16th, 1973, Victor Jara was tortured and assassinated. His life and death have been in the conscience of Chile for more than 40 years, and in the last few days, his songs resurrected and are being massively played on the protests that are taking place in Chile.  On October 25th, 2019, at least 1.2 million people took to the streets of Santiago and demanded a more fair and just country, and just as Victor Jara sang, the right to leave in peace.

Apparently, it all started with an increase in the fares of the Santiago Metro, nonetheless, the issue is more complicated and is a reflection of the inequality, social instability, and disconnection between citizens and politicians. The protests, indeed, begun with the student opposition to the rise of the prices in the subway, but the outrage quickly spread to the whole country, and the later decision of President Piñera to dismiss the increase and maintain the old rate, was not enough to appease the already spread discontent. The protests were fierce and passionate and in some cases did turn violent, especially due to the reaction of the armed forces, yes the armed forces, because President Piñera decided that after 40 years of democracy it was time, again, as in the dictatorship, to put 3000 soldiers in the streets.  Obviously, this did not work, since the military personnel is out in the streets, 137 persons have been wounded by firearms and 4 of the 15 people who have died, were killed by soldiers.

Since Pinochet’s dictatorship, Chile has not changed its constitution and the economic model has been practically incontestable. Some leaders of the change of regime sustain that preserving the constitution of Pinochet and maintaining his economic model was the only way in 1990 to successfully transit into a democracy, whereas, some others claim that the democratic leaders elected since 1990 have just devoted to administering a system inherited from a violent military regime.

For many years, Chile was, and still is, the model to admire and copy in South America, and to be fair, the stats were pretty solid. Take the poverty rates for example, according to the World Bank, between 2000 and 2017 the poverty index went from 31% to 6,4% and consequently the middle class in Chile became the largest social class. In terms of education, access to basic and higher education also improved, nonetheless, its privatization scheme meant a high level of debt for the middle class and its level of quality did not improve as expected.  Finally, in regards to the health system, the infant mortality, as well as the child malnutrition decreased dramatically and today are the lowest in Latin America.

In spite of the obvious improvements described above, the needs of the country today are diverse and show that the “Chilean miracle”, as the American economists described its economic model, has deep and extensive cracks. Inequality in Chile is visible in many aspects: the distribution of salaries (50% of the labour force earns less than $562 US Dollars monthly) , the level of pensions (80% of the retired population obtain a pension under the minimum wage), the intense segregation in cities like Santiago, and the distinction, due to privatization, in the quality of hospitals and schools. In addition to the economic situation, the disconnection between the political leaders and the population is critical, in accordance to a 2016 study, 83% of the citizens do not self-identify as belonging to any specific political party, and consequently, as the situation shows today, the president and the political leaders, including the opposition, have been unable to establish a dialogue with a rebel movement which has no visible leaders.  Finally, the measures taken by President Piñera have not diminished or weakened people’s dissatisfaction, and today, Chile does not give truce.