Last Friday, a fierce protest erupted in Chile against the spike in subway fees. On the following day, President Sebastian Pinera retracted the bill to raise the prices and declared a 15-day state of emergency, yet at least eight were killed and scores of people were injured as of Sunday. The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a second-grade warning against visiting Chile across the entire nation. A slew of anti-government protests are sweeping many parts of the globe such as Hong Kong, Egypt, Lebanon, and Ecuador, all up in arms against economic woes and tyranny of their countries.
According to CNN, the Chilean government announced a plan to raise subway fees from the current 800 Chilean pesos (about 1,320 Korean won) to 830 pesos (1,370 won) during the rushing hours in the morning and evening in the capital city of Santiago. Despite the seemingly moderate accrual at 30 pesos, Chileans, who are already squeezed between economic polarization and inflation, were instantly incensed. BBC reported that the low-income families in Chile spend about 30% of their monthly income on subway fees. Chile is ranked in ninth among 56 countries as a country with most expensive subway fees. It is also suffering from an extreme polarization, with the top 1% owning 26.5% of the total wealth of the nation while the bottom 50% holds only 2.1% of it. In fact, the Chilean government had raised the subway fee in January, and it also upped the prices of electricity several weeks ago, citing fiscal deficit.
The folks who were dealt the hardest blow by the rises took to the streets immediately. They ran amok, setting ablaze public institutions, buses, and shops indiscriminately. On Saturday, a fire at a supermarket killed at least three people. The following day, another fire at a clothing warehouse presumed to have been committed by protestors left as many as five persons dead. The local media report that approximately 1,400 have been detained from the protests.
While the Chilean government backed out, the people still remain enraged. Many of them have gripes about the Pinera administration’s neoliberalism policies. Having risen to power against in 2018 after finishing his first term between 2010 and 2014, President Pinera is pushing for austerity measures and privatization, criticizing the policy direction of Michelle Bachelet, his predecessor who heavily focused on welfare. The protesters are fuming even more after a photo was made public on Friday night in which the president is seen dining at an expensive restaurant.
The Pinera administration declared a state of emergency in Santiago on Saturday. This marks the first time that Chile has declared states of emergency since the times of Augusto Pinochet, the iron-fisted dictator who ruled the country from 1973 and 1990. The scope of the declaration was further expanded on Sunday to include the entire metropolitan areas, Valparaiso, Coquimbo, Bio-Bio, and O’Higgins. It appears that the casualties will rise as President Pinera is taking on a hawkish stance against protestors, calling them “organized and armed with weapons in a similar fashion to a criminal gang.”