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They Nurture A Dream…

People had hit the streets in Chile earlier in October, staging protests against the rising social and economic inequalities. At that time, 17 people were killed, as the protesters clashed with the Police and the Armed Forces. Also, more than 100 people had received serious injuries. The situation has deteriorated in the last few weeks, with the Chileans taking to the streets yet again on October 26 in protest against low salaries, high utility prices, poor pensions and economic inequality. More than one million people reportedly gathered in the capital city of Santiago alone! The scenario was same in other major cities…

Rightist business tycoon Sebastián Piñera had come to power in 2017, defeating the Central-Left Coalition Government. Since Piñera became the President, the socio-economic situation has deteriorated. The scenario prompted common people, including taxi, bus and truck drivers, to stage anti-Government protests in different cities last week. They covered the main streets of Santiago with posters against the misdeeds committed by President Piñera, demanding his resignation. The protesters – wearing coloured masks, holding Chilean national flags and singing a song written by Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez (the Chilean poet who was killed in 1973) – also shouted slogans against the Head of the State!

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The Piñera Administration recently increased bus and train fares, thus, triggering a fresh wave of protests. Soon after making the move, the government had to deploy the Army, as common people torched buses, trains, metro stations, supermarkets, banks and the high-rise headquarters of a major energy firm in protests against the decision. The Government said in a statement that riots, arson and looting caused more than USD 1.4 billion of losses to Chilean businesses. The local media reported that the Police arrested nearly 7,000 protesters. After the death of 17 people, the Government imposed curfew (from 11pm to 5am everyday) in major cities, and deployed nearly 20,000 Army personnel in order to maintain the law and order situation.

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President Sebastián Piñera

Mainly the working-class people took to the streets in Santiago on October 26. On Twitter, Santiago Governor Karla Rubilar wrote: “Today is a historic day. The Metropolitan Region is host to a peaceful march of almost one million people who represent a dream for a new Chile.” It is to be noted that one million people means more than 5% of the Lain American country’s total population! Clotilde Soto, a retired teacher aged 82, said that she joined the protest rally as she did not want to die without seeing change for the better in her country. “Above all, we need better salaries and better pensions,” she stressed. Beatriz Demur (42), a yoga teacher from the suburb of Barrio Brazil, also joined the rally with her daughter Tabatha (22). She told the press: “We want Chile to be a better place. The most powerful have privatised everything. It’s been that way for 30 years.” Meanwhile, her daughter said: “I have waited for this a long time… It’s not scary, it’s exciting. It means change.

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Political Experts are of the opinion that protesters have sent a strong message to President Piñera. Now, the President will have to change his policies in order to stay in power. Else, people might dethrone him in the next election. Guillermo Holzmann, the Senior Political Analyst at the University of Valparaíso, believes that if the Pinera Government fails to win protesters over with a promised working party set up to examine the issues that drove them onto the streets, he will have to pay the price… Perhaps, the President has realised the gravity of the situation… that’s why he sacked all his ministers on October 27, and promised to reshuffle the entire Cabinet.

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Chile returned to democracy in 1990, after being ruled by Dictator General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte for 16 years. In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, people rejected Pinochet’s bid to remain in power through 1997. After conceding defeat, the Dictator opened the way for Presidential and Congressional Elections, rather than clinging to power by force.

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Chile’s Popular Unrest is basically a lesson for the Global Community. The Latin American country’s free-market version of a Welfare State isn’t working for everyone. So, other nations and investors should take notice. If it can happen in Chile, it can happen anywhere in the world…

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