One million Chilean citizens have protested in the capital of Santiago on Friday afternoon to protest against President Sebastian Piñera and his government.
Men, women, and children of every age and background have protested throughout the capital, shouting “Piñera renuncia” or “Piñera resign” as well as calling for widespread political and social change.
The unprecedented civil action started as student protests after a hike in metro fees was announced. Already deemed very expensive by residents of the capital city, the increase put the price above the means of many, students included. The cost of living in the country has been on the increase steadily with necessities such as water, food, and electric at very high rates for the region.
Citizens have also been protesting about the privatisation of the water company, the electric company, and the health service. This combined with a low standard of education, low wages and even lower pensions led to Chileans taking to the streets to demand a better standard of living and an end to the political elite.
One woman, a 72-year-old told Al Jazeera “we are the generation that began our lives in the dictatorship, and we had no youth. We lost friends, we saw people slaughtered. We lived with fear, but now the young people have blossomed, they have lost that fear”.
Chile was ruled by General Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte between 1973 and 1990. He was a dictator who assumed power following a US-backed coup d’etat that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. After his rise to power, he cracked down on leftists, socialists, academics and political critics, executing some 3000 people and imprisoning and torturing over 100,000.
He was, and is widely criticised for his authoritarianism, human rights abuses, corruption, tax evasion, secret bank accounts, arms deals, and of course, his crimes against the Chilean people. He died of a heart attack in December 2006.
Chile is categorised as a “flawed democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Its current President Sebastian Pinera is one of the richest people in Chile, with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion. There have also been a number of corruption scandals over the last few years.
A person living in Chile told Exit:
“It’s a very complex situation. There is much inequality and corruption and the system we live in is very poor for the working class and middle class. We have poor education and poor health and this right-wing government makes it even harder.”
“Can you believe we are still living under Pinochet’s Constitution? The Constitution that was created in the dictatorship!” she added.
When asked what protestors are demanding, she explained that first and foremost they want the military off the streets.
“At the first sign of protest, the President declared war on the people and sent militia onto the streets. People have been shot. The first thing we want is no more violence against the people”.
Secondly, they want the President to leave his position. The phrase “Pinera renuncia” has become something of a slogan of the protests, and protestors hope that he will.
“I don’t know if it will happen, but we hope so. He has said the cabinet will be replaced so I guess that is something”.