Skip to main content


From Southern Affairs
By Nathan Gill

Protestors clashed with police in Santiago, Chile on Sept. 29 leaving one officer shot, a socialist senator wounded and over 400 arrested. Chile’s Federation of Union Workers (CUT) called for market reforms, improvements in Santiago’s new public transportation system as well as social and educational reform.

The day began at 6am when groups of protestors began forming around the city. By 7:15am a Taxi Union had blocked off Avenida Pajaritos, a major thoroughfare into the city, to protest taxi zone restrictions. After brief skirmishes with police the roads were reopened, but by that point more protests were breaking out across the city. In Plaza Italia, one of the nerve centers of the city, large groups of protestors began forming during the morning rush hour. They were joined by special police force units who lined the street and filmed the crowds, preparing for the inevitable conflict.

Being in one of these marches is wild. Police Special Forces line up silently along the sidewalks, buses and tanks line the streets in preparation for the hundreds of protestors that will inevitably be arrested. Protestors chant their demands on megaphones and wave their flags, banners, and placards. As the city rush hour progress, more and more people joined the crowd while police gather silently, anticipating the coming battle.

At 9am, a large mass of high school students arrived at Plaza Italia adding their youthful rage to the protest. An hour later the protestors are joined by various national Senators, including Alejandro Navarro, Marcos Enr√≠quez Ominami and Sergio Aguil√≥. The senators join the CUT’s call for economic reform and ask for the resignation of the Finance Minister, Andres Velasco.

While the police try and keep traffic moving, the CUT’s president arrived with another group of protestors at Plaza Italia while its Vice-President negotiated with police to gain permission to march up La Alameda, the city’s central road. About 10:50am tensions broke and the protestors and police began to clash. The police launched an assault on the crowd, using teargas, water cannons, and clubs to keep protestors from advancing toward the center. In the resulting mayhem Senator Navarro was clubbed by police officers and carried off by the assembled legislators. Later interviews showed them covered in blood from the head wound received by Navarro.

This description stands in sharp contrast to the international press reports on the current state of Chile. Recent reports in the NY Times highlight the 6.1 percent growth rate in the second quarter and a recent by-line in The Economist states that “A country that pioneered reform comes close to abolishing poverty.” If this is true, why the protests?

Tuesday’s demonstrators called for macro-economic reform, higher pensions, better education, public transportation and improved health and housing services. So, while economic indicators point to improving financial conditions, why do so many Chileans remain skeptical about the values of the market reforms adopted in the 1980s?

One answer is that the average Chilean, while measurably better off today than in the early 1970s still remains relatively poor compared to other more prosperous countries they watch on TV every day. The Chilean protests seen throughout the entire Bachelet presidency reflect the impatience many left of center citizens feel with the slow pace of social progress in their country.

With the increase in higher-education enrollment, more young professionals are joining the workforce in a market largely controlled by a small group of national holding companies. The lack of market access for small and mid-size entrepreneurs contributes to the overall public discontent expressed in Tuesday’s march and helps explain why many Chileans are unhappy with the economic miracle that everyone thinks their country represents.

Finally, there is the question of the massive windfalls from the high price of copper. Chile is the world’s leading producer of copper and most is produced by the state—owned mining company CODELCO. The disagreement over how much to spend and save within the governing party has strained relations within the administration and led to much national soul-searching. While finance minister Andres Velasco conservative management of the nation’s savings is certainly preferable to irresponsible spending, many wonder why the government is not investing more money in education, healthcare reform and poverty reduction.

One solution might be to provide Chileans with more information about the government’s policy rationale. If their programs really are the wisest course for the nation the people ought to appreciate that fact if public officials would just take the time to explain in detail why they have chosen the course they are currently on.


Popular posts from this blog

Moving to the Suburbs: Reducciones in Recent Latin American Historiography

In 1503, the Spanish monarchy issued its first decree for the resettlement of indigenous groups in the Caribbean so that they would “live together” and “not remain or wander separated from each other in the backcountry.”[1]

As the European conquest spread to North, Central, and South America, these new settlements – known as reducciones and congregaciones in Spanish and descimentos in Portuguese – became sites of forced labor, evangelism, experimental agricultural, and refuge. Through a series of imperial policies decreed over the next decades and centuries of colonial rule, Spanish and Portuguese officials attempted to reshape the New World, including its human and natural landscapes. How colonial historians explain this process and indigenous peoples’ reactions to it is the focus of this essay.

In a review of the recent historiography of reducciones, several trends emerge that signal a shift in our understanding of the practice. As this paper will show, one common element is that …

77-Year-Old Wall Street Favorite to Face Fujimori in Peru Runoff

By Nathan Gill and John Quigley April 12, 2016 (Bloomberg) -- The victory by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former finance minister, for second place in Sunday’s Peruvian president elections sets up a showdown between two business-friendly candidates, part of a regional backlash against left-wing politicians.
Kuczynski, a 77-year-old Oxford-trained political economist who’s spent more than 50 years championing debt control and free trade, won 21 percent of vote with 96 percent of the ballots counted, according to the electoral office. He will face Keiko Fujimori, who won 39.8 percent, in a second-round vote on June 5.
Click here to read the full story on Bloomberg News.

Bailout Risk Grows for Ecuador After Worst Earthquake in Decades

By Nathan Gill April 19, 2016 (Bloomberg) -- Before a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador on Saturday, the South American nation’s finances were already in tatters as the government struggled to meet payments to municipal authorities, oil companies and even cancer hospitals. Cut off from global bond markets, President Rafael Correa must now find enough money to rehouse thousands.
As volunteers continue to rescue victims from the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings on Ecuador’s Pacific coast, doubts are growing about the country’s ability to pay for the reconstruction. The nation is already in its worst recession since the financial system collapsed in the late 1990s, and international reserves are at their lowest levels in almost seven years.
Click hereto read the full story on Bloomberg News.