Chile faces worst political unrest in decades

Global Business

Chile faces worst political unrest in decadesDemonstrators clash with riot police during a protest against the government in Santiago on November 19, 2019. – (Photo by CLAUDIO REYES / AFP)

Chile has long been seen as the most stable country in South America. Its GDP per person is ranked as one of the highest in the entire continent. It tends to stands out as being distinctly staid compared to its neighbors.

CGTN’s Stephen Gibbs reports.

But mass protests that began last month following a 3.75 percent rise in metro fares have changed many people’s image of the South American nation.

The demonstrations exposed widespread public anger against equality, the cost of living, and a system that some say is grossly skewed in favor of the rich.

There was an anarchic side to the protests too – 61 metro stations were vandalised in the first days, several were firebombed.

Especially shocked by the rapid turn of events have been those immigrants who recently moved to Chile, attracted by its reputation for stability.

Many of them are Venezuelan, who has escaped an economic meltdown back home.

Omar Martinez, 42, a business administrator, left Caracas in 2014 just as the crisis there worsened. He has since set up a small bakery shop serving Venezuelan specialties in Santiago. He admits to wondering whether he has inadvertently exchanged one hotspot for another.

“It has been shocking because none of us knew that the people were so angry…it was so dramatic”, he said.

Six of his eight employees are Venezuelan. Given that the minimum wage in Chile is around 70 times that of Venezuela, many of the recent arrivals struggle to understand what the Chileans are protesting about.

“When you have come here from a very serious situation, it seems like the people here are protesting for something stupid”, said Heberth Perez, 25, a baker.

But the protesters themselves say Chile’s apparent prosperity hides some fundamental problems that will not be easily solved.

“The political class and private business have this country under a system where we are exploited. They squeeze us, and it has just exploded”, one demonstrator – who preferred not to give his name – told CGTN.

But for those that have lived through turbulent times elsewhere, images of non-stop protests for over a month are troubling.

Recent events in the region show that when upheaval starts, it is never clear how it will end.