By: Daniel Zagoren (Correspondent)
Chile is currently in a state of emergency after tens of thousands of residents began protesting this past October over income inequality, as well as a rise in public transportation fees and the cost of living.
The protests began when groups of students took to metro stations in the Santiago area, protesting against the rise in the cost of public transportation. On October 19th, over one million Chileans marched on the streets to protest against the rise in the cost of living, for president Piñera to resign from office, and for the government to draft a new constitution. Since the protests began, there have been 24 deaths, including a four-year-old toddler and three minors, along with 2,500 civilian injuries and 2,840 arrests.
A four-percent rise in public transportation was implemented from 800 to 830 Chilean pesos for the metro (USD 1.00 – 1.04) and 700 to 710 pesos for the bus (USD 0.87 – 0.89), which was due to an increase in costs of fuel, labor, and the consumer price index. The resulting increase in prices has made the city of Santiago, Chile, the second most expensive city for public transportation in Latin America.
“There are two great formulas through which the rate goes up: the first one is the one that has been explained, the rate indexer, the price of diesel, labor, and very importantly, since March of this year the price of electricity goes up, and in one way or another it will hit the value of the ticket,” said Paola Tapia, the former minister of transportation in Chile.
The Chilean peso is at an all-time low and the economy has been in decline since the protests began. Citizens forced public transportation to shut down, and the record low value of their currency is “a sign of concern that we’re looking at closely,” said Chile finance minister Ignacio Briones.
The brutality and violence of the ongoing protests have caused a multitude of casualties ranging from four to seventy-four years old. Most were killed by gunshot wounds from riot police or building fires started by the protestors. The use of petrol bombs and tear gas was prominent throughout the duration of the protests.
Although people say that people should have the right to protest, students don’t say that using violence is the best way to make their voices heard.
Daniel Okstein, a sophomore at Sharon High School, says that the most effective strategy is to protest peacefully. “When protests turn violent, the violence is all that’s talked about, not the cause. Sometimes civil disobedience is necessary too, but I still think that is should be peaceful, so that the message of the protest gets through,” Okstein said.
In addition, Deepti Prabhakara, a junior at Sharon High, says that less violence is the most effective way to be heard. “I’m sure protests are the most effective way to see government change. In terms of protests obviously peaceful protests are a better solution,” Prabhakara said.
As tensions rise between the citizens and the government, the protests have become anything but peaceful. Despite this, protesters are still making sure their voices are heard and close to getting one of their demands met: a new constitution for Chile.
Kevin Simons, a senior at Sharon High says that people should definitely be able to protest their government. “The ability to protest your government enables you to have a voice in your countries trajectories. Also, countries are improved as a result of listening to its people,” said Simons.
A new document called the“Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution,” has been signed by lawmakers and politicians across Chile and has granted citizens the ability to draft a new constitution, with or without the help of the government. President of the senate in Chile, Jaime Quintana, states that the president is ready for a new constitution. “[President] Piñera has characteristically reacted late to the crisis, but I value that he is now open to a new Constitution,” Quintana said.
So far, the only thing that the government has acted upon since the protests began is the potential drafting of a new constitution. The public continues to demand a raise in the minimum wage, a reversal of the raise in public transportation fees, and the resignation of President Piñera.
The focus of the protests have now shifted to the human rights abuses that riot officers are imposing upon protestors. Camila Miranda, 24, was a street performer participating in a peaceful protest march, when she was hit by six rubber bullets and sprayed with tear gas by the police twice from close range.
This incident hasn’t ruined her spirit, as she states, “We [the people] don’t mind being hungry, facing hardship, neglect, pain,” Miranda said.
“People are willing to make a sacrifice to achieve real change,” Miranda added.
It is only a matter of time before the government acts upon what the 3.7 million-plus protesters demand and peace begins to spread throughout Chile once again.