Friday 17 September 2021

Chile: Protests and looting erupt despite president’s new Cabinet

Protesters in Chile are angry over high inequality, low wages and a thin social safety net. According to a recent poll, some 80% of Chileans did not consider President Pinera's new proposals to be adequate.

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Demonstrators in Chile returned to the streets on Monday to reject President Sebastian Pinera’s overture to protesters and Cabinet replacements.

Protesters in Chile are angry over high inequality, low wages and a thin social safety net. According to a recent poll, some 80% of Chileans did not consider President Pinera’s new proposals to be adequate.

Pinera has sought to quell the unrest in his country by acknowledging citizens’ concerns and by replacing his entire Cabinet. Following 10 days of street demonstrations, which were sparked by a hike in transportation fees, the Chilean president’s popularity has sunk to historic lows.

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“Chile has changed and the government must change,” Pinera said.

But just hours after the new Cabinet was brought in, thousands of protesters gathered in the capital, Santiago. One group of protesters set fire to a building that houses a fast food restaurant and stores.

Looters targeted a pharmacy, while another group tried to set a subway station on fire. It was a repeat of the vandalism that took place in last week’s protests, when dozens of train stations were left shuttered due to fire damage.

“What we are seeing today is no people who want justice or a better Chile, we are seeing people who want destruction and chaos,” Minister for the General Secretariat of the Government Karla Rubliar said.

“A small group creates the violence. It is some 7,000 people, who have nothing to do with the 1.2 million that marched on Friday,” she added, in reference to last week’s mobilizations.

A public opinion poll by Chilean firm Cadem, published on Sunday, found 80% of Chileans did not consider Pinera’s proposals adequate. This was something that he himself acknowledged in his speech on Monday.

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“We know these measures don’t solve all the problems, but they’re an important first step,” Pinera said.

Smoke was seen billowing in Santiago on Monday from fires set by protesters

Cadem’s poll showed Pinera’s approval rating at a mere 14%, the lowest figure for a Chilean president since the return to democracy.

Although Chile has been an economic and democratic success story in Latin America, having been inducted in the OECD and holding the region’s highest score on the UN Human Development Index, the country is also plagued with high inequality.

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The top 1% of Chile’s population earns 33% of the country’s wealth. Many Chileans are angry over low wages and pensions, expensive health care and education.

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