In Chile, large-scale protests resembling a popular uprising are in full swing. There are clashes with the police, over 20 people have been killed, hundreds wounded and arrested, the capital's metro is destroyed, a curfew and a state of siege are imposed. A rather strange picture, given that Chile has preserved the image of a stable and wealthy country in the last three decades. But that's only a matter of the first glance. In fact, the Chilean revolt is quite a natural consequence of the legalized extreme stratification of Chilean society into a handful of very rich and a vast majority of the poor. The events in Chile are yet another argument for Latin America's predicted turn leftward.
The reason for the protests was the subway fare price increase by 30 pesos, just four American cents! However, this trifling rise in prices was the last straw that filled up the cup of overall popular aversion to the socio-economic model of Chile. The protest explosion was so powerful that the country literally plunged into chaos. President Sebastian Piñera, risking the country's image, even canceled the APEC summit and the COP25 climate forum set for November in Santiago.
What exactly are the Chileans uncomfortable with? In the 1980s, the age of Pinochet dictatorship, total privatization began in Chile, which led to the state's withdrawal from all the spheres of social and economic life. Today, Chile is the world's leader in terms of privatization. Pinochet took this line under advice of American economist Milton Friedman, an advocate of a free market and governmental non-interference with business. Chile rapidly built an extreme model of liberal economy with free market principles applied even to the social sphere.
As a result, high-quality education and medicine, as well as pension maintenance, became available only to the discriminating few. Through legislation, Chile established a highly segregated social protection system. The key element and the basis of this institutionalized social injustice was the system of education. Only children of wealthy parents can get sound academic background in Chile. Thus, the education system reproduces and perpetuates social inequality among the Chileans. It stands to reason that Pinochet's Chile was used by American liberal economists as a testing ground for their market theories. This experiment to create ideal business conditions with no place for a living person lasts to the present day. And its longevity seems to have become possible provided there is a repressive apparatus, the effectiveness of which has been brought to an ideal during the dictatorship and which is here to stay.
As a result of Pinochet's economic policies based on Friedman's recommendations, Chile experienced economic growth in the 1990s. However, the development of business and the creation of a favorable investment climate had little to do with most of the population. For the time being, in terms of its per capita GDP, Chile stays ahead of the curve in Latin America. However, a third of the total GDP is accounted for by 120 Chilean families or 1 percent of the population. This eloquent indicator of extreme social stratification does not require much explanation. According to Spain's El País, such a system "damages the dignity of the people and allows for systematic abuses on the part of privileged groups."
By the way, President Piñera belongs to these most privileged groups as well. He is a prominent businessman, with his fortune estimated by Forbes at 2.4 billion dollars. Piñera personifies that very class of power-holders against whose privileges the Chileans protest. For this reason the head of state is a strong irritant to the population.
The scale and ferocity of popular protests clearly indicate that Chile's socio-economic model has reached the point where it has to be fundamentally changed in favor of social equality. Meanwhile, it is hard to assume that the notorious 1 percent of those in power will voluntarily agree to share their privileges and material well-being. Especially given that they have the law, rules and regulations adopted during the dictatorship of Pinochet on their side, and the army and the entire repressive state apparatus with the Pinochet era spirit at their disposal. And the conclusion is as follows: there are new social explosions ahead in Chile, the strength of which is anybody’s guess.
The developments in Chile once again demonstrate that the whole of Latin America is on the threshold of a new, left-wing political cycle. Speaking well for this forecast is the outcome of neighboring Argentina's recent presidential election, where President Mauricio Macri's liberal policy suffered epic fail. As a result, the Argentines voted for the left-wing Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez in tandem with former President Cristina de Kirchner, who will become Vice President.
Besides, the continent's largest country, Brazil, would have turned left even earlier than Argentina and Chile if Lula da Silva, the most charismatic leftist politician in Brazil's entire history, had participated in last year's presidential election. A corruption case was fabricated against Lula clearly under pressure from the United States and, without proving anything, he was put behind bars and knocked out of the presidential race.
However, Brazil's near-term prospect after the next election seem leftist. As well as for the entire continent.