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.”

Chile’s Government Is Setting An Example For The World As They Fight Climate Change By Going Carbon Neutral By 2050

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Chile’s Government Is Setting An Example For The World As They Fight Climate Change By Going Carbon Neutral By 2050

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Philosophers and scientists might disagree in many things, but today they are both certain of something: climate change is real and it is bound to affect how people live and survive in the planet. As temperatures throughout the world go up and down and plants and animal species perish, governments have been slow to respond to what many believe is humanity’s biggest challenge. 

Climate change can be traced down to many factors, but chief among them (or at least very near to the top) is the use of non-renewable energies such as carbon. While the right-leaning governments of some of the most powerful countries in the world such as the United States and Australia remain sceptic and unfazed about the clear and present danger of climate change, other smaller nations such as Finland and now Chile are taking huge steps towards a carbon neutral future. They know that the time to act is now or there might never be another chance. 

So Chile plans to be carbon neutral by 2050: the clock is ticking.

Chile is now spearheading efforts coming from the developing world to relinquish the use of coal to generate power. Even is the South American country is still coal-dependent, it has set an ambitious goal for the next 30 years that would overhaul decades of non-renewable energies.

It might sound simple, but it is far from it. Becoming carbon neutral implies the refurbishing of enormous infrastructures, acquiring new equipment and rolling out a nationwide network of energy distribution and storage. But the Chilean government, even in the current climate of social unrest, is taking a big step in making carbon neutrality a national priority.

In a column written by Carlos Barría, Head of Prospective and Regulatory Impact Analysis, Ministry of Energy, the government states that Chile believes that Climate Change (CC) is real and that both private and public sectors need to work hand in hand to dramatically reduce emissions. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera can be blamed for many things, of course, but we gotta recognize that he has been a fierce advocate for actions that address climate change. 

The Chilean government is aware that climate change affects those that are the most vulnerable.

Chile’s capital Santiago is experiencing unprecedented levels of pollution and droughts in rural areas have affected farmers and communities. Climate change has exacerbated social inequality worldwide. It is clearly a matter of class and power: those with the economic means are often unwilling to change their business models, even if this means that literally the whole world will suffer.

This is why Chile’s 2050 objective is groundbreaking, particularly coming from a Global South country. Barría’s column continues: “We also know that CC is unfair and most vulnerable affects the most vulnerable, increasing inequalities. Chile is a country vulnerable to the CC, we know that. In addition, during the last few months we have been able to clearly show that economic development alone is not sufficient: it is required to be sustainable, that is, to consider the social, environmental and economic in a comprehensive way.”

We really hope that these are not only empty words and that changes in government do not shift public spending away from the many initiatives that will need to be put in place if 2050 brings a huge reason to celebrate. 

But how do they plan to achieve carbon neutrality? 

The government has set out to implement changes in five different areas, according to the column: “sustainable industry and mining, sustainable housing and public-commercial building, coal-mining plant removal and renewables penetration, electromobility mainly from the public system and methane capture in landfills, change of use of nitrogen fertilizers and capture of methane in animal aging.” Each one of these measures involves considerable investment. But can we put a price on the future? Chile is already leading the way in solar energy farms with enormous facilities in its desert. Only time will tell if the objectives are met. 

The announcement comes as Australia, another Southern Hemisphere country, is literally burning and many blame climate change.

As you read this, an area almost as large as the whole if Ireland is burning in Australia. The increased heat caused by climate change and strong winds have triggered bushfires that have already killed people and about half a billion animals. The federal government refuses to address this as a climate change issue and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been blasted by the media and the public for his lack of leadership in a time of distress. Maybe Australia, a country that relies heavily on mining, can learn from Chile? We would certainly hope so. 

As Massive Protests Sweep Latin America, Here’s Why Mexico Has Been Able To Avoid Them So Far

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As Massive Protests Sweep Latin America, Here’s Why Mexico Has Been Able To Avoid Them So Far

Joaquin Sarmiento / Getty

2019 will be remembered as the year in which Latin America was swept by a wave of protests, mostly led by young people who are fed up with the status quo and right-wing governments.

Chile has been taken over by a massive wave of protests that has encompassed not only the capital of Santiago, but also places such as Valparaiso. These protests are not only attended by young activists, but also by unions, lay people and basically anyone who wants to speak out against neoliberal economic policies and conservative politics that have turned the police force known as carabineros into a repressive entity.

In Colombia, social unrest reached unprecedented levels in the capital of Bogota and even became deadly when a young activist was killed, which led to further protests against police brutality. Ecuador has also experienced mass protests and the most vulnerable, particularly indigenous groups, have unjustly suffered the consequences. 

Just like when Middle Eastern countries protested in what was collectively known as the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, Latin America seems to be at a turning point in which change seems inevitable and the polarization in society when it comes to cultural, political and social issues is at its highest.  

But Mexico has escaped this wave of protests even if it has been historically a highly politicized society… perhaps the ghost of 1968 is still lingering.

On October 2 1968, a few weeks before Mexico City was due to hold the Olympic Games, a crowd of students was massacred by the army in the infamous Masacre de Tlatelolco. This event, in which police and military forces acted with brutality and impunity, has defined political life in Mexico for decades. Even though protests are numerous, they are smaller in size and generally a one-off occurrence rather than a long and sustained effort. This might be due, in part, to the internalized fear of State repression. 

Contemporary Mexico suffers from a gross divide between rich and poor, and also corruption that is endemic to politicians and public servants. So are people not fed up? 

As the Mexicanist points out, poverty rates in Mexico surpass 40% and are only second to Honduras in the region. At the same time, the rich in Mexico are super rich, perhaps only comparable to the elites in countries such as Singapore, the United States and Britain. Corruption runs rampant in every level of government and the private sector basically does anything it wants if its pockets are deep enough. The government led my AMLO has made the fight against corruption its main policy, which in a way is a preemptive attack against dissent.  

So why has Mexico escaped mass protests? A weak opposition and a new semi-leftist government.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses supporters after receiving the staff of command from indigenous people during the AMLO Fest at Zocalo square in Mexico City, Mexico December 1, 2018. Picture taken December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

There are several reasons why the wave of protests that has caught fire throughout the region. The first and perhaps foremost reason is that the AMLO led government is barely a year old and so far it has been rather centrist in its political approach. The decades-long fear that an AMLO-led government would lead Mexico into a situation akin to Chavez’s and Maduro’s Venezuela.

Added to that, the opposition, mainly embodied by the conservative PAN, is in total disarray. The presidential campaign of Ricardo Anaya divided PAN-members and caused the balkanization of the party, whereby different factions emerged. Added to that, this party and the legacy of its last president, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, has been scrutinized for the past few months and critiques reached a boiling point when Genaro Garcia Luna, who led Calderon’s war against the drug cartels, was arrested in the United States for allegedly receiving bribes from the Sinaloa cartel.

So centrist AMLO government + weakened opposition: a lid on social unrest. A very, very provisional lid, however. 

AMLO’s discourse resembled the demands of protesters in South America… and he has a 60% approval rate.

If we were to place the Mexican president in the political spectrum compared to his counterparts in Colombia and Chile, he would be to the left… the extreme left. The anti neoliberal flag that protesters wave in South America is one that AMLO has been waving for decades. Now, this is on a discursive level so far: it might be to early to tell, but early indications from the AMLO presidency lead many to believe that he is not as leftist as he seems. But the discourse is working when it comes to appeasing social unrest similar to that experienced in South America, as Mexicanist explains: “The Mexican president’s criticisms of the neoliberal model, its harmful effects on popular welfare and his “perverse vocation for corruption” are in tune with the narrative of the movements of indignant Latin Americans. Also, the harangues against public-private corruption and the system of privileges that has been forged in Latin American-style capitalism.”

Added to this, Lopez Obrador enjoys a comfortable 60% approval rate even though he lost 10-15% in the past year due to pressing matters such as the violence that the country has experienced in 2019, the most savage year on record, among other challenges and mistakes that have defined the new administration.