A wave of protest has erupted in Chile, after president Sebastian Pinera’s decision to increase metro fares ignited increasing tensions surrounding the cost of living.
Protests began last Thursday when thousands of students took part in a fare dodging protest at metro stations up and down the country.
School and university students jumped over turnstiles in groups, and set fire to dozens of stations.
Protesters erected barricades in seven of the major cities in Chile, including the capital Santiago. They set fire to buses, gas stations, supermarkets and the headquarters of Italian energy company Enel.
The scale and militancy of the protests forced Pinera to withdraw the fare rises.
And he met with government officials claiming to look for ways to “reduce excessive inequalities which exist within our society.”
But just hours after the meeting Pinera said that the demonstrations had a “degree of logistics typical of criminal organisations”—and he then began a crackdown.
He declared a state of emergency and put some 10,500 police and soldiers backed by tanks on the streets.
It is the first time since Augusto Pinochet’s 1970s dictatorship that there has been a military presence on the streets of Chile.
Police deployed teargas and used water cannons to disperse crowds. They beat protesters and dragged them into custody. Some 1,500 people have been arrested, and at least eight have been killed. Yet despite the crackdown and the phony concessions, demonstrators have stayed on the streets—motivated by dire wages and a high cost of living.
The average wage in Chile is around £618 a month—meaning that people suffer under massive levels of debt in order to survive. Some pensioners get a pension as low as £48 a month.
Meanwhile, Pinera himself is a billionaire, who has privatised much of Chile’s education and healthcare services, yet boasts that Chile is an “oasis” in South America.
Protester Enrique Araya said, “Politicians seem to be living in a different world to us. The metro fare was just the detonator.”
Gabriela Munoz said, “You just need to scratch the surface to discover that people are fed up with so much abuse.
“This is happening because the government won’t listen.”