Washington DC.- The flow of violent photos and videos that came through social networks and the media had to be reinforced so that, especially non-Chileans accustomed to the mythical image of stability and exemplarity of the country, could believe the paraphernalia of fire and blood in front of their screens.
The president of Chile Sebastián Piñera has achieved an feat impossible to imagine after almost 30 years of return to democracy: linking the young Chilean people on the streets, who were not raised in dictatorship, with military troops imposing the curfew, the state emergency and the suspension of some constitutional guarantees. A Darwinian way of maintaining the ghostly continuum of the dictatorship embedded in the Chilensis collective psyche.
The balance so far will go down in history: until today, 11 dead, 30 wounded (a figure undoubtedly under-represented by the government) and 800 detainees are officially recognized. It adds to the human cost, more than 70 subway stations damaged, with 20 burned, in addition to destroyed trains. And destruction of a large amount of public and private infrastructure.RELATED
Of course, the analysis based on surprise is for the foreign public. Chileans know what came over this past weekend. The country's population has been suffering from state violence for decades.
The images of these last days are the same of the painful protests of the eighties, when the country was booming with poverty and despair caused by the political and economic repression of the Pinochet dictatorship. And they are the same images of the repression against secondary students 10 years ago, the so-called Penguin Revolution, with girls and boys attacked with police dogs. And equivalent to state violence generated by similar coercive legal measures such as the anti-terrorism law, applied to the Mapuches in southern Chile.
The Chilean police of Carabineros has always been repressive.
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As repressive as the rest of institutional and macro-private organizations that turn Chile into a large pressure cooker, which strives to keep its face made up in front of the international community. Piñera in the symbolic has deepened in this repressive role of the State. Far from creating a reconciliation narrative against the social outbreak, he has chosen to use the concept of “war” against an “internal enemy”, a painful metaphor used profusely by Pinochet to justify the violation of the human rights of Chileans, and to give a moral basis to the soldiers who exercised repression directly against their compatriots.
It should be remembered that despite the progress of the social agenda since the end of the dictatorship, Pinochet was successful in the deep implementation of neoliberal privatizations that surround the daily life of 17 million Chileans.
It privatized education, and created a sub-funded public structure that restricts the future of millions of children, condemned to insufficient technical-professional training to compete with the children of the national elite. Privatized the health system, again creating a constant state of despair in the national majority that either uses the public system, slow, bureaucratic and of poor quality, or finances private care that fluctuates according to the salary level. A totally regressive system. Privatized pensions, with a retirement system that again offers benefits according to income and personal savings capacity.
Social trauma generated from the economic and political model
All these privatizations have been creating a social trauma that is breathed every time one visits Chile. It is a feeling of permanent institutional harassment, of the market, of the media. The Chilean soul has become an expression of permanent frustration.
The level of wages is very poor. A study by the Sol Foundation shows that 70% of Chileans earn less than 700 dollars a month, and 50% earn about 500 dollars, just over the minimum wage. The life of the Chilean middle class is plagued by chronic debt levels, with millions of people struggling to access a quality of life similar to that projected by the media and to those who perceive a sidewalk in the highest income neighborhoods.
Chronic debt and generalized depression
Of the nine million Chilean workers, about 50% are in debt. A June 2017 study indicated that 31% of debtors had a financial burden greater than 40% of their income, and 22% of debtors exhibited a financial burden greater than 50%. And 43% of debtors have monthly income of less than $ 500,000 pesos, equivalent to just under $ 700 according to the current exchange rate. Simply impossible to survive in peace with these figures.
A 2014 international study placed Chile in second place in Latin America in per capita debt for the use of credit cards. Under these conditions, the possibility of saving and recreation are void.
This affects the mental health of the country. Chile has one of the worst depression rates in the world, with more than 18 percent of the population. And it is a problem that mostly affects the poor in Chile.
The expert Mariane Krause, psychologist and director of the Millennium Institute of Depression and Personality (MIDAP), points out that in the breakdown of the figure, the high-income sectors have a rate of 8%, while the poor population, depressive symptoms arrive at 25% That is, shockingly, one in 4 poor people suffers from depression in Chile. The reasons for the social debacle of these last days leave no doubt, a figure of chronic stress that could even be under-represented considering the low access to mental health in a privatized system.
Transportation: a sensitive issue
The issue of the Metro passage and public transport is not only symbolic and related to the few weights of the increase decreed. Just study the figures. At the current cost, a worker spends a day at least between 3 and 6 dollars on the bus and subway combination, depending on the distance between his home and his job, and the amount of trips he must take, for work or other daily activities (withdrawal of children from schools, bureaucratic procedures, emergencies, purchases, etc.).
That is, between 60 and 120 dollars a month. 50% of workers earn less than 500,000 pesos, a little less than 700 dollars. That is, a worker could spend up to 17% of his salary for transportation. If that father or mother are the only ones who work, and there is a child or children who need paid transportation, for example to go to university, or do paperwork, or go out to eat at some possible night … The painting that emerges is of constant pressure for millions of families.
Compare with a city like Washington DC. A young worker of medium experience can expect a salary of $ 4,000 per month. The DC Metro is expensive, and at peak times it can cost about $ 10 for two daily trips, or $ 200 per month. The cost does not reach 5% of that monthly salary.
Chile: the same recipe from Ecuador and Argentina
This system of institutional violence is based on impunity for the elite. As Professor Javier Ruiz Tagle of the Catholic University demonstrates, the amount of looting of public funds in a context of judicial accusation against large Chilean corporations has exceeded 4 billion dollars in recent years. This includes tax evasion, collusion and illegal monopolies, which involved large business groups, including Piñera himself.
The social explosion under the Piñera government is not isolated from the international context. In Ecuador, the Lenin Moreno government has neutralized the social policies of its predecessor, Rafael Correa, and has decreed a tax amnesty to the bank system and large corporations, which have not paid taxes for decades. The figure of the state embezzlement also reaches more than 4,000 million dollars. Lenin Moreno has transferred this debt from the private financial sector to the Ecuadorian population, proceeding to eliminate the fuel subsidy.
The coup in the Ecuadorian population was immediately felt just a few days ago, especially in the indigenous population. More than 500 wounded, a dozen dead, and the crude memory of the instability that Ecuador suffered for decades is the balance of this adjustment policy under pressure from the International Monetary Fund. Lenin Moreno's popularity has fallen to 20% approval, one of the worst on the continent.
The same situation has occurred in Argentina. President Macri's adjustment policies have dismantled almost all the subsidies and social programs of the previous government. It eliminated subsidies for public transport and water and electricity services, causing a 500% increase in the latter.
Looting and despair were swift.
Only last month there was a huge demonstration to demand measures that prevent hunger in the population. Behind these fiscal policy adjustments is also the IMF, which continues to demand to restrict social spending, while the banking system made a profit of 170,000 million dollars in 2018, 120% above 2017 figures.
The result of these social policies? The poverty rate in Argentina already exceeds 30%. 50% of children in Argentina are poor, and one in seven goes hungry.
Chile's deep tax injustice: economic violence
In Chile, the economic model, still protected by all presidents and without changes in structure (including the socialists Lagos and Bachelet), causes tax collection to also have an excessive weight on people and a minimal burden on companies.
More than 40% of the tax collection in Chile comes from VAT (sales tax for products and services), that is, it emanates from citizens, not companies, a regressive and unfair situation, which disproportionately affects the poorest. People with higher incomes only represent 9% of the proceeds.
Companies in Chile also have great advantages when filing taxes that, in some cases, allow them to pay up to 0%. Companies in the mining sector, one of the most important areas for the country, have also been strongly benefited. For example, according to a study by economist Eduardo Titelman, between 2004 and 2009 the State stopped receiving more than 10,000 million dollars due to tax royalties to mining companies, privileges that few Chileans have.
Everything leads to inequality. According to a 2019 ECLAC report, the richest 1% of Chile keeps 26% of the wealth. And Chile ranks seventh among the most unequal countries on the planet, as reported by the World Bank in 2018.
That is, the system is based on a regressive tax policy that enhances inequality. The system is so rooted in Chilean socio-political culture, that any fair change to this model of economic violence does not have an institutional way to be specified.
The electoral route, in that sense, has been totally incapable of provoking a change that benefits the whole country. Street violence appears, then, as the only way out, the cry of despair in the face of the chronic stress of daily life. And governments, faced with the lack of substantive responses, also resort to extraordinary measures such as in the case of Piñera, using the curfew, military troops, the state of emergency or the anti-terrorism law.
A fury fueled by 30 years and the recipe for change
As in Argentina and Ecuador, both governed by right-wing presidents, Piñera proceeded to affect a sensitive area of the population. The price of the Metro ticket and the public transport of the Transantiago increased. Just a few cents. But they demonstrated the strength of a few drops that ended up spilling the fury of "30 years" of state violence. So say the popular slogans on the streets. Piñera and the powerful financial sector he represents have nothing to do with the underlying solution of the Chilean problem. That would imply stabbing themselves.
The recipe is clear: the corporate groups (the Angelini, the Luksic, the Piñera and a long etcetera), must voluntarily cede part of their factual power and allow a real tax reform that floods the coffers of the State.
The privatization of health system must be eliminated immediately. A universal insurance system that covers all the needs of the population must be created. That is, health as a human right. It is not necessary to invent the wheel: it has Canada, it has Europe, until the impoverished Cuba.
The pension system must also be universal, although with mixed variants. With the option of private pension accounts for those who can collect more as a fair reward for their previous income. But the State must guarantee a fair and substantial fund for every retiree in the country. All proceeds from the investment operations of these public funds must be returned to each citizen.
And the salary structure must be urgently reformed.
The objective is to create income and consumption conditions that merge a strong domestic market, but not based on chronic indebtedness. The structure of consumption in Chile is based on the permanent indebtedness of the middle and working class. This is not sustainable and that will keep the permanent domestic market depressed. With the current equation, a population exhausted by a constant sense of job insecurity is created. This affects productivity, professional passion, the quality of life of families.
If large business groups want more market, more dynamism, more production, it is not understood why they have opted for the economic repression of millions of potential consumers. Simply, there is conformism with the levels of current gain, and even greater comfort with the passivity suffered by the millions of workers in the country.
Economic freedom, only for the elite
The main thing is the historical change of the mental structure of the Chilean business elite. By supporting and financing the political and economic values of the Pinochet dictatorship, the world of Chilean capital opted for a repressive logic generated from the State. Thus he betrayed the same values of individual development and "freedom" that the dictatorship took from Milton Friedman and company.
The non-intervention of the State in the economy is a myth. In reality, the State intervenes strongly to guarantee a permanent position of economic privilege of a specific sector of the population. The way in which this logic has been developed for more than four decades leaves no doubt. There is no interest in developing the potential of the Chilean people. There is a huge distrust in the population that is perceived as a mass that must be controlled under docility standards.
They are given a poor and expensive health system that keeps them sick and indebted with the private hospital system.
They are given an educational system that frustrates the vast majority of young people and keeps them under-employed and under-educated.
They are locked in a depressed and insufficient salary structure, which prevents the accumulation of capital and savings. And that truncates the possibility of sufficiently financing leisure and spiritual and mental freedom activities.
They are given an electoral system that does not cause profound changes (strictly speaking, it does not matter if the governments are socialist, social democratic or right-wing, the basis of the social contract State-citizen is immutable).
The law and constitutional coercive measures are used to crush the expression of social protest, leaving the door open to the raw expression of violence.
The Chilean explosion this weekend is not an alert call.
He has always been present, latent, sometimes submerged, but ready to overflow the streets. All Chileans know: every social injustice that emanates from the relentless state regularly floods the streets of violence and despair. The international community only intuits the reality of side-by-side, convinced of the mirage created behind macroeconomic figures.
This is how Santiago suffers, destroyed and rebuilt several times a year, in a cadence of rage that has already become a painful litany. The Chilean people, hardworking and suffering for a land full of natural calamities, political calamities and social calamities, got tired this October of 2019 to turn the other cheek.
Patricio Zamorano is an academic in political science, international analyst and journalist. He is also Executive Director of the consulting firm InfoAméricas LLC.