Chile is experiencing turbulent times at almost all levels. Congress is the scene of strong fragmentation and, far from trying to end it, at least 16 people have presented their candidacy for the presidential elections in November. To the above, we must add that there are only three weeks left before the constituent elections, in which the citizens will elect the 155 drafters of the new Constitution, the first after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Parliamentary, regional and local elections will also be held in 2021. Chile, 31 years after the return of democracy, is now facing with uncertainty a historical moment in which the country is cracking and in which, furthermore, there is no consensus on when it began to fall apart, nor whether the constituent path will manage to channel chaos or not.
The political class pulls popular measures, while the conservative government of Sebastián Piñera waves its arms to avoid drowning. Without control of Parliament, the Executive has not managed to get out of the crisis that erupted in October 2019, when the social unrest – without clear leaders – put it on the ropes. Despite the fact that a good part of the opposition seeks to remove him, there are no relevant figures, neither on the right nor on the left, because there has hardly been any regeneration. Eccentric parliamentarians now polarize the debate and take the easy applause. Furthermore, social networks do nothing more than pour gasoline on the fire.
“Historical reading is broken in Chile,” says Ascanio Cavallo, a political journalist and author of some of the key investigations of the recent past of the country of almost 19 million inhabitants. There are very different interpretations of the 2019 movement, the first democratic governments and even the dictatorship, says the author of The Hidden History of the Transition. “We don’t even have a single name for the outburst [social] two years ago. Some speak of riots and others of prerevolution. There is no way to designate what happened because there is still no way to understand it, ”continues Cavallo.
The social mobilizations of 2019 came to a halt with the pandemic that reached Chile in March 2020. Like practically the rest of the world, the country has experienced a health and economic crisis, but to which must be added a political and social crisis that had been dragging on since before covid-19, a disease that has killed some 25,000 Chileans and officially infected just over a million. The pandemic, therefore, found in Chile a weakened government, which has not even been able to take off thanks to the advance purchase of vaccines, with which it has already immunized 49.6% of the “target population” (almost 16 million people) with the first dose. 37.8% already have the second injection, a record in the region. But the distrust of the population not only affects the Executive, but also the parties of the entire ideological spectrum, the Congress and the rest of the State institutions.
For the historian Sol Serrano, the promise of prosperity of the transition and the center-left governments (1990-2010), however, was not a mirage. He explains that in the last three decades Chile has undergone a very rapid modernization and with many changes. “An open society appeared, with greater access to consumption, resources and not only with a gigantic reduction in poverty, but also a different, heterogeneous poverty. Chile has been one of the countries that has had a faster ascent in higher education ”, he says. But although there is no perfect formula in the world for the speed of change, says Serrano, “in the Chilean case, it went very quickly from a very hierarchical social structure to a transformation of the class structure, which is something other than the inequality”.
Towards an “active malaise”
There are other views on the multiple crisis facing Chile. The sociologist Rodrigo Márquez, researcher and academic, was one of the founders of the Report on Human Development of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which since at least 1998 began to warn about people’s discomfort. “During the following years a claim was maintained against a society that did not generate the basic security conditions. That gave the options to progress and have a better life than that of parents and grandparents, but at a cost that was not up to the sacrifice, “explains Márquez. It was what ended up exploding in 2019, with the riots, he explains. What changed was not unrest, but tolerance: “Certain issues became unacceptable. It went from a diffuse malaise to an active malaise due to injustices and inequalities ”.
Márquez assures that ordinary people in Chile are not polarized, because “for a long time they have had a consistent and majority claim position”, as reflected, in his opinion, in the result of the plebiscite last October: eight out of 10 Chileans voted to bury and replace the 1980 Constitution drafted during the dictatorship. Therefore, “the cleavage is given between the society that demands transformations and all the powerful that, it is noted, govern for their convenience and do not want to understand,” explains Márquez.
The tension shows in the language. Opposition parties with representation in Congress used the slogan # exploded2021 on social networks as a call for new revolts, after Piñera announced that he had appealed to the Constitutional Court to prevent the third withdrawal of 10% of the savings from private pension funds . The essayist Adriana Valdés, director of the Chilean Academy of Language, an active user of social networks, warned a few days ago that in Chile “several powerful words are being misused, including genocide” (of which some sectors accuse Piñera for the management of the pandemic). “When they need them, they won’t mean anything anymore. Be careful, ”Valdés wrote.
Polarization is not new, according to Guillermo Calderón, a playwright with a renowned work focused on contemporary history: “It appears as a political expression of the segregation of education, health, cities or the transport system, which in Chile is sentenced by design ”. He is not surprised by the tension and does not mind that it is exposed. “Before, the entire project was based on a kind of collaboration between a business elite that would lead the country to development and the rest of a country that had to wait for some success to come”, a matter that Calderón classifies as “a trick dishonest”.
Neither does Karina Nohales, a lawyer, spokesperson for the feminist coordinator 8-M. During the transition, an attempt was made “from language to build the image of a country friendly with its contradictions,” says Nohales, who is part of the movement that has spearheaded the Chilean protests. But since the social outbreak of 2019, “everything is tense and gives way to a chemically pure language of a social antagonism that existed before. And they begin to say how they really see us, ”says the lawyer, whose political action she carries out from Puente Alto, a popular municipality in the south of Santiago. Nohales refers to statements such as that of the leader of the National Agricultural Society (SNA) union, businessman Ricardo Ariztía, who this week said that people did not come to work “because they receive government bonds” in the framework of the pandemic .
The anthropologist Pablo Ortúzar speaks of a “busted middle class”, of “politicians, businessmen and priests marked by the signs of corruption and abuse” and of “an upper class in civil war”. “The struggle for power, domination and figuration has become increasingly implacable in elite contexts,” says Ortúzar. “Then, the possibility of advancing in a pragmatic way along the path that the middle class needs – the construction and consolidation, little by little, of a social State with greater guarantees – is blocked above by the delirium and fury of the dominant groups. of all sides ”, analyzes the researcher of the Institute of the Institute for Society Studies (IES). For Ortúzar, the populism of the political leaders appears, then, as a way both to punish the indolence of those at the top and to give a voice to those in the middle.
The flame in the street has not gone out. Violence has resurfaced in Chile since, on Tuesday, Piñera announced the intervention of the Constitutional Court to prevent a new withdrawal of pension funds, as ordered by Congress with the vote of pro-government parliamentarians. The withdrawal of cash is a popular measure, because aid has not reached the people in the midst of the pandemic, according to critics of the Executive. But technicians from all sectors have warned about the complexity of breaking down a pension system without having a replacement system. Cornered even by his own coalition, Piñera negotiates against the clock to overcome this new political setback.
The resurgence of street protests worries La Moneda. “We call on all political forces, all leaders, not to make calls that incite violence and, on the contrary, call for the tranquility of citizens in times when we are in a pandemic,” said the undersecretary of the Interior, Juan Francisco Galli.
The climate that exists in Chile threatens to cloud a year in which the South American country will renew a good part of the authorities. The electoral train starts on the weekend of May 15 and 16 with the election of the constituents, mayors, councilors and regional governors (who are elected for the first time, because they were appointed by the Executive). In November, together with the presidential ones, the parliamentary ones will be held. In 2022, the text of the new Constitution will be plebiscited.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.