By Emraan Ansari
Proposed economic reforms by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has infuriated Chileans, who railed against the widespread inequality throughout the country. Pinera had initially proposed an increase in metro fare across Chile, in addition to a hike on electricity rates. Unrest across the country in the face of these policies was magnified in Santiago, where citizens and police clashed during demonstrations. The Chilean police have been accused of using heavy-handed tactics to deal with protestors, and with the death toll at 18 and rising, the United Nations sent a delegation of human rights investigators to the country. Riot police have used rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Although Chile has a healthy economy, buoyed by a strong copper industry, inequality throughout the country is high, and living standards are not reflective of Chile’s economic position. In addition to the protests, there have been mass strikes called by worker rights groups, including the powerful copper union, which has paralyzed Chile’s workforce. Protestors have begun to demand the resignation of President Pinera, who failed to appease them with an apology statement. Pinera apologized for “decades” of problems, and pledged to address issues including health insurance, electricity prices, and pensions. In an attempt to combat the rising anger from its populace, the Chilean government enacted a curfew in Santiago, but that only served to reinvigorate protestors who do not appear to be letting up.
Recently, the pressure on President Pinera has forced him into appeasing the protestors’ demands, and he has called for a constitutional referendum in April of 2020. The referendum will ask Chileans if they want the current constitution to be replaced, and if so, which governing body should author the new one. The vote on a new constitution comes because of the protestors’ demands for a state guarantee of healthcare and education, which is not in the current constitution. If Chile votes for a new constitution, it is likely that it will establish the state as a guarantor of education and healthcare for the entire country.