Things That Matter

Two People Die As A Driver Plows His Car Through A Crowd Of Protesters In Chile

From Haiti and Puerto Rico to Ecuador and, now, Chile, communities around the world are standing up against policies that they view as contributing to growing income inequality.

After Chile’s President had announced a planned increase in public transit fares, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to announce their opposition to the plan. Chile has already been combating extreme income inequality and a growing cost of living that has outpaced wage growth, making Chile one of the most expensive Latin American countries to live in.

For many Chileans, news of a planned fare increase was one step too far.

Chile becomes the latest nation to rise up against neo-liberal policies that many feel are causing growing income inequality.

Credit: @BorisVanderSpek / Twitter

The protest by students began on Monday when hundreds of people entered several stations in Santiago, jumping over or dipping under turnstiles to protest a 4% increase in subway fares from about US$1 to US$1.16. Chile doesn’t produce its own oil and must import its fuel, leading to high prices for gasoline, electricity and elevated public transportation costs.

Officials said the hike was necessary due to the rising costs of fuel and maintenance as well as the devaluation of Chile’s peso currency.

By the end of the week the protests had turned violent with students breaking gates, shattering glass and throwing debris onto the electrified rails. The situation further deteriorated when some seven stations were set on fire, bank branches and supermarkets attacked and the country’s main electricity company headquarters building was set on fire.

On Friday, the Santiago Metro said it had stopped operating all six lines due to damage until at least Monday, stranding thousands of commuters.

The massive demonstration and police response has resulted in widespread destruction, arrests, and even death.

In response to the protests, the government deployed more than 10,500 officers to the ground and there are reports of more than 1,400 arrests.

Officials in the Santiago region said three people had died in fires at two looted supermarkets early on Sunday. Sixty Walmart-owned outlets were vandalised, and the company said many stores did not open during the day. Five more people were later found dead in the basement of a burned warehouse and were not employees, authorities said.

At least two airlines cancelled or rescheduled flights into the capital, affecting more than 1,400 passengers Sunday and Monday.

Many people were upset at the language used by the President to describe the massive resistance.

“We are at war with a powerful, relentless enemy that respects nothing or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits,” the president, Sebastián Piñera, said on Sunday in an unscheduled speech from the military headquarters.

To many, the language he used just deepened the divide between normal, every day Chileans and those with money and power. The President called protesters criminals and blamed them for clashes with military forces. His choice of words seemed to fan the flames of resistance and empowered those already on the streets.

Meanwhile, the President himself is a billionaire conservative who served as president between 2010 and 2014 before taking office again in March 2018, is facing the worst crisis of his second term.

On Saturday night, he announced he was cancelling a subway fare rise imposed two weeks ago. 

After meeting the heads of the legislature and judicial system earlier on Sunday, Piñera said they discussed solutions to the crisis and that he aimed “to reduce excessive inequalities, inequities abuses, that persist in our society”.

Jaime Quintana, the president of the senate, said “the political world must take responsibility for how we have come to this situation”.

However, the protests don’t seem to be slowing down.

Monday is likely to see a resumption of the protests seen over the weekend, with many banks, schools, and shops expected to remain closed.

Authorities said just one line of the city’s metro was expected to reopen Monday after the entire system was closed Friday because of the damage caused during the protests.

Pinera has appealed for calm. During his televised address on Sunday, he said there were good reasons to take to the streets, but asked for those doing so “to demonstrate peacefully” adding that “nobody has the right to act with brutal criminal violence.”

But Pinera’s appeal may have come too late.

“The protests are more than just about fare increase,” Boris Van Der Spek, founder of the independent news website Chile Today, told Al Jazeera. “It is about the cost of living and the level of inequality in the country. There is so much discontent in Chile. This was always going to happen one way or another.”

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This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

Things That Matter

This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

Cuba has long been a biotech juggernaut in the Caribbean. When health crises emerge around the globe or there’s a medical disaster, Cuba is often one of the first nation’s to send medical staff and emergency workers to help. Its medical team has become part of the country’s diplomacy.

But the Coronavirus pandemic has brought economic devastation to a country already facing severe economic issues. Many on the island struggle to even find daily necessities like Tylenol or Band-Aids yet the Cuban government is just steps away from developing its own vaccine against COVID-19. How is this possible?

Cuban researches are making their own Coronavirus vaccine and seeing great results.

Currently on the island, there are five vaccine candidates in development, with two already in late-stage trials. Cuban officials say they’re developing cheap and easy-to-store serums. They are able to last at room temperature for weeks, and in long-term storage as high as 46.4 degrees, potentially making them a viable option for low-income, tropical countries that have been pushed aside by bigger, wealthier nations in the international race for coronavirus vaccines.

If they’re successful and developing and rolling out the vaccine, Cuba – a country where the average scientific researcher earns about $250 a month — could be among the first nations in the world to reach herd immunity, putting it in a position to lure vaccine tourists and to export surpluses of what officials claim could reach 100 million doses by year’s end.

If they pull this off, it would be a big win for the communist government.

Achieving success would be an against-the-odds feat of medical science and a public relations win for the isolated country of 11 million people. Cuba was just added back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the final days of the Trump administration.

It could also make Cuba the pharmacist for nations lumped by Washington into the so-called “Axis of Evil.” Countries like Iran and Venezuela have already inked vaccine deals with Havana. Iran has even agreed to host a Phase 3 trial of one of Cuba’s most promising candidates — Soberana 2 — as part of a technology transfer agreement that could see millions of doses manufactured in Iran.

“We have great confidence in Cuban medical science and biotechnology,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told The Washington Post this week. “It will not only be fundamental for Venezuela, but for the Americas. It will be the true solution for our people.”

So how is Cuba managing to pull this off despite all the challenges they face?

Cuba is an authoritarian, one-party state with strict controls on everything from free speech and political activism to social media and LGBTQ rights. But the island has always invested heavily in education and healthcare, which has led to an unusually sophisticated biotechnology industry for a small developing country, with at least 31 research companies and 62 factories with over 20,000 workers.

Should Cuba’s vaccines succeed, its researchers will have overcome even more hurdles than their peers in Western labs — including shortages of equipment, spare parts and other supplies, due in part to U.S. sanctions

A successful vaccine could also become a vital new source of revenue for Cuba, which has been suffering a brutal economic crisis that has citizens waiting hours in line to buy scarce food, soap and toothpaste. The economy worsened under Trump-era sanctions that tightened the long-standing U.S. economic embargo of Cuba by curbing remittances, scaling back U.S. flights, ending cruise ship passenger traffic and further complicating Cuba’s access to the global financial system. President Biden has called for a possible return to Obama-era policies, but he has made no such moves yet.

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This Month, Isabel Allende Is Releasing a Memoir and HBO Is Releasing a Mini-Series Based on Her Life

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This Month, Isabel Allende Is Releasing a Memoir and HBO Is Releasing a Mini-Series Based on Her Life

Photo via Getty Images

March is a busy month for Isabel Allende. The most successful Spanish-language author of all time released a new memoir, “The Soul of a Woman”, on March 2nd. On March 12th, HBO released a mini-series based on her life entitled “ISABEL: The Intimate Story of Isabel Allende”.

Both of these projects focus on the unifying themes of Isabel Allende’s life. How she has defied the patriarchy, bucked expectations, and pursued her dreams while the odds were against her.

The HBO mini-series, entitled “ISABEL: The Intimate Story of Isabel Allende”, covers a lot of ground. From Allende’s childhood in Chile, to the chaotic years of her uncle’s assassination (who happened to be Chile’s president), and her subsequent flight to Venezuela.

The series will also touch on different phases of her life. Her career as a journalist for a progressive feminist magazine. Dealing with her all-consuming grief when her daughter died in 1992. Publishing her first novel–“House of Spirits”–in 1982.

A scene from the trailer of “ISABEL” sums up the hurtles that Allende had to overcome to create a career for herself in the male-dominated world of publishing. “They are going to raise the bar because you’re a woman,” her agent tells her bluntly. “You’ll have to work twice as hard as a man in order to obtain half the prestige.”

Allende’s memoir, “The Soul of a Woman“, on the other hand, reflects on her life through a distinctly feminist lens.

Her publisher describes it as “a passionate and inspiring mediation on what it means to be a woman.” And it doesn’t appear that Allende is shying away from the label of “feminist”. One of the first sentences of her book states: “When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, even before the concept was known in my family, I am not exaggerating.”

Despite being 78-years-young, Allende’s beliefs–about feminism, freedom and intersectionality–are incredibly modern. Throughout her lengthy press tour, Allende has been candid about the life experiences that have shaped her beliefs–mainly how witnessing her mother’s suffering at the hands of her father contributed to her “rage against chauvinism.”

Today, Allende remains incredibly in touch with the progressive issues of the moment, like the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.

“In patriarchy, we are all left out: women, poor people, Black people, people with disabilities, people with different sexual orientations,” she recently told PopSugar. “We are all left out! Because it divides us into small groups to control us.”

Above all, Allende believes that we all–especially women–should recognize that we have many of the same goals and dreams. And we’re stronger when we’re united. “Talk to each other — women alone are vulnerable, women together are invincible,” she says.

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