Nationwide protests in Chile garner little U.S. attention


Esteban Felix / AP Photo

An anti-government protester flashes victory signs at a cordon of Chilean police during in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Twenty people have so far died amid nationwide protests.

Protests in Chile have been escalating since mid-October amidst decades of tension over high student debt, economic inequality and a broken welfare system, with students at the forefront of the resistance. 

Protests began about a month ago when high school students organized a campaign of fare-dodging the Metro trains after a fare hike was announced by the Panel of Public Transport Experts. As students began their campaign to evade a high fare, authorities began to toughen their stance. After nearly a week, clashes between police and students broke out at Metro stations, forcing some trains to stop running. By the second week, thousands of people took the streets in protest, and police began to respond with water cannons and tear gas. The situation has since escalated into a broader denunciation of the government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. 

On Oct. 25, over one million people marched through the streets of Santiago, Chile’s capital, in solidarity with those protesting against economic inequality and to demand an end to the use of military force on protestors. Many have called attention to a violation of human rights by Chile’s military.

“This is nothing short of what we’ve been seeing in Chile since Pinochet’s time,” said Carolina Sternberg, Chair of DePaul’s Latin American and Latino studies department. 

Under Augusto Pinochet’s U.S.-supported dictatorship, which lasted  from 1973 until he formally stepped down in 1990, Chile saw widespread privatization, deregulation and widening social inequality.

“The protests began again with an increase in transportation fare but the Chilean people have been fighting for economic justice for a long time,” Sternberg said.

Chile’s neoliberal economic policies have long made it an outlier among Latin American countries, especially amid the so-called “pink tide” of leftism that took shape across the region in the ‘90s. 

“It’s essentially been viewed in the U.S. as a success story for neoliberalism, although that’s clearly being challenged,” said Rose Spalding, a DePaul political science professor who specializes in Latin American politics. 

President Sebastián Piñera recently agreed to meet some of the protesters’ demands by asking legislators to overturn an increase  in electricity rates, increase the minimum wage, and to introduce a state medical insurance. He also demanded that all ministers of his cabinet resign so that he could begin reshuffling the cabinet. However, Piñera has called for increased efforts on surveillance of Chilean protesters and increased prison sentences for violent protesters

“I’ve heard a little bit about what’s going on in Chile,” said Lucia Giron, a junior at DePaul. “But, typically, it’s only because Univision is the only news channel talking about it.” 

As the protests enter their second month, media critics like the progressive watchdog group FAIR have argued that many Western media outlets are not adequately reporting on the numerous human rights violations against protesters committed by the Chilean government. So far, twenty people have died, over two thousand people have been injured, and over five thousand people have been arrested. 

“Unfortunately, U.S. news outlets only care about Latin American issues in the context of immigration, crime, and drug trafficking,” said Sternberg. “It’s not a surprise that people aren’t talking about what’s happening in Chile even though we should be.”