Chileans demand greater share of country’s prosperity

World Today

Demonstrators in Chile demand greater share of country's prosperity

In Santiago, Chile, protesters have looted a Roman Catholic church, dragging pews and statues into the street and setting them on fire. A fire also broke out at a nearby university. Weeks of unrest in the country have caused massive damage, but that hasn’t stopped Chileans from supporting the demonstrators.

CGTN’s Joel Richards reports.

The protests in Chile started after the government hiked metro fares, but they quickly grew into one of the country’s largest demonstrations in years. As many people here say, it is not about 30 cents, it’s about 30 years. 

Large parts of Santiago are now boarded up, the capital bearing the scars of weeks of violent protests. The National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago, like much of the city, is covered in graffiti. The museum is closed, the workers have gone on strike and they have added a line onto the sign on the front gate which really goes to the very heart of what these protests in Chile are about. It reads hasta que la dignidad sea constumbre which means “until dignity becomes a habit.”

Washington Wilson paid into a private pension fund for years. Now the 75-year-old man receives roughly $200 a month, an amount that barely covers the cost of medicine for his heart condition. He says the privatized pension funds are profiting from people like him.

“It is can’t be any clearer,” Wilson said. “The pension funds are making money with our money, with my money.”

The sense of injustice at the situation facing Chile’s older generation is one of the reasons behind these protests.

Near Wilson’s house is a supermarket that burned down. Vandalism is estimated to have cost the country well over a billion dollars. Yet surveys show more than 70-percent of the population supports the protests that are demanding change.

Investigators at the Fundacion Sol, a nonprofit research organization, point to World Bank data that shows the wealthiest one-percent in Chile has 33-percent of the national income. It’s a concentration of wealth not seen anywhere else in the world. 

“There are people who work full time and yet are living in poverty with their families,” said Fundacion Sol representative Benjamin Saez. “That is one of the contradictions in a country that says it is one of the economic miracles in the region.”

The government has announced a series of policies such as increasing the minimum wage and reducing the number of working hours which are intended to appease protesters. 

But for many here it’s too little too late. Chile has long been considered a model of economic and social success in Latin America. And now Chileans want to be part of that success.