Chile: History Repeating Itself or History Being Made?

The past 2 weeks have been some of the most historically important for the nation of Chile. Saturday October 25th saw the largest mass-protest in Chilean history, with around 2 million people taking to the street to make their voices heard. What started as a group of students reacting to the increased metro fare prices has become a nation wide democratic crisis, waking the voices of all those who have lived in poverty under the shadow of the rich for too long. 

#evasionmassiva which was to take hold of the nation by refusing to pay the fare and jumping the barrier instead. In the days that followed, the protests gained momentum, becoming violent on October 18th as police unleashed tear gas on protesters in an effort to break up the crowds. As of October 26th, 19 people had died, nearly 2,500 injured and 2,840 has been arrested. A state of national emergency was declared after Plaza Italia went up in flames, and a curfew was declared in Santiago and the surrounding regions. 

Chile made history on October 25th as 1.2 million people gathered in a peaceful protest, many carrying the slogan ‘No more abuse’. Despite being one of the richest countries in Latin America, Chile is also one with the greatest gaps between the rich and the poor; an estimated 14.4% of the nation live in poverty. In this rapidly growing country, money buys everything – education, property, business. It is now surprise that the nation has now begun to call out the government on this severe inequality. It was a volcano waiting to erupt. 

The question is, where will it end? The protests are continuing, two weeks later, and there seems to be little movement on either side. Despite President Pinera’s efforts to build a cabinet that can “better attend to the country’s need” by dismissing and reappointing all his ministers, little has been done in the way of legislation to satisfy the disillusion of the nation. The people themselves seem ever more determined to be heard as the protests continue on a daily basis, Plaza Italia resembles a post-apocalyptic city, and the vague hint of tear gas catches your throat as you walk the streets each morning, a uncomfortable reminder of the darkness that has been revealed in the country. 

This Wednesday saw a mass protest outside the city’s largest shopping center, the Costarena. Scheduled via social media and the powerful hashtag, the protest was intended to start at 2pm. At 12pm the Costarena center had closed its doors and the police had arrived. By 1pm the protesters were beginning to gather, banging their pots and pans, blowing whistles, and waving their Chilean flags in heartfelt defiance and patriotism; it was perhaps the only time the Chilean nation had arrived early for anything. What stuck me the most was the speed with which the police unleashed the noxious tear gas on the crowds. Barely a handful of people had arrived, and yet the police vans tore down the streets and spewed the gas in great canons at anyone who was in close proximity, even though these people were not even protesting.  

Last week, when the state of emergency was first declared, Pinera called on the national police force to “restore the peace” in the streets of Santiago. Bessy Gallando, appearing on the talk show Bienvenidos, spoke out against this use of violence against the people, stating that the police have “a constitutional duty to protect human rights”. Not only is this a matter of peope vs politicians, but it is now calling the Chilean Constitution itself into question. The use of the police and armed forces to quell the voice of the people has an all too familiar feeling of the dictatorship of Pinochet, the wounds of which are still fresh and healing for many Chileans, and it is this, perhaps combined with fog of tear gas, that is leaving a sour taste… 

 It is hard to say where this will end. It seems that the people have endured too much and suffered too long to now retreat back from the front line they have so defiantly drawn these past two weeks. Whatever happens next, Chile is certainly making history once again.