Chile commemorates third anniversary of the social uprising

Thousands of citizens took to the streets in different parts of Chile to mark the third anniversary of the historic struggle and recall that the popular demand for a new and inclusive constitution still remains unfulfilled

October 19, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Students at the University of Santiago protested on October 15 on the eve of the three-year anniversary of the social uprising. The banner says "three years and nothing has changed". Photo: Frente Fotográfico

October 18, 2022, marked three years since the beginning of the uprising in Chile for social and economic rights and against neoliberalism. This uprising brought many long-standing issues to the table such as the demand to change the country’s current constitution that was written and imposed in 1980 under the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

The social rebellion was originally sparked by a high school students’ protest against the increase in the cost of public transportation services in the capital Santiago. On October 11, 2019, students began refusing to buy metro tickets en masse and jumped the turnstiles to protest the hike. The resistance led by the Chilean youth served as the catalyst for awakening the long-standing discontent in the country. On October 18, 2019, these protests multiplied and transformed into a larger movement demanding structural changes in the country.

The mass protests continued for almost 5 months until the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. During those five months, millions of Chileans took to the streets across the country against the anti-people neoliberal economic policies of the right-wing government led by former President Sebastián Piñera and the glaring inequalities in the country. Social movements, trade unions, and progressive political parties in the country argued that the constitution drafted by Pinochet laid the foundation for the rampant inequality and neoliberal economic system and demanded a new and inclusive constitution with people’s participation.

The massive movement and widespread social discontent forced the-then Piñera government to agree to write a new constitution to replace the existing one. However, a new progressive constitution, which was drafted by a democratically elected gender-equal constitutional convention and was set to replace the current neoliberal one, was rejected in September this year.

Read more: The bewildering vote in Chile that rejected a new constitution

The struggle continues

This Tuesday, thousands of Chileans took to the streets and organized roadblocks in different parts of the country to mark the third anniversary of the historic struggle, and recall that the popular demand for a new constitution still remains unfulfilled.

In Santiago, in addition to road blockades in various parts, hundreds of people, mostly high school students, gathered at the iconic Dignity square, also known as Italy square, to demand the fulfillment of all the promises made in the months following the historic protests.

Protests and roadblocks were also recorded in Valparaíso, Arica, Osorno, Valdivia, Concepción, Los Angeles and Temuco.

Gilda San Martín, a human rights activist, in conversation with Prensa Latina, highlighted that “the social reality of the country has not changed much, job insecurity continues, the neoliberal system continues to oppress citizens, young people still have to get into debt to be able to study.”

After demonstrating at the Dignity square, the protesters marched towards La Moneda Palace, the seat of the President of the Republic. However, on La Alameda Avenue, they were repressed by the agents of the national police force, the Carabineros, with tear gas and water canons.

Students organizations and human rights activists condemned the police repression, pointing out that the demand to reform the national police force, which has been called out for its brutality countless times, is also pending.

The Carabineros have been accused of committing grave human rights violations during the popular uprising. According to the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) in Chile, between October 18, 2019 and March 18, 2020, due to heavy police repression, 31 people were killed, 11,389 people were arrested, 3,838 were severely injured, 460 suffered eye injuries and vision loss, 617 were tortured and threatened, 257 were sexually assaulted, and 1,272 were dealt with excessive force.

President Gabriel Boric promises to address urgent needs

Just as the protests were kicking off, in a press conference on Tuesday morning, President Gabriel Boric also recalled the anniversary of the uprising and said that the discomfort expressed by the people is still valid, and that his government is working to provide solutions to urgent problems such as health, pensions, rising cost of living, etc.

“Three years ago, thousands of people demonstrated expressing long-standing discomfort, calling for greater justice, equality and an end to abuse. They demonstrated so that neither the size of the wallet nor the place of birth were a condition to access a safe life, decent health, quality education, and the need to have pensions that guarantee decent retirement after a life of effort,” said President Boric.

“The outbreak was not an anti-capitalist revolution, nor was it a pure wave of crime. It was an expression of pain and fractures in our society that our politics has not been able to interpret or provide answers to,” added the head of state.

Boric said that “the mandate of our government is to put an end to this long period of drought in which the reforms are not materialized.”

The president added that his government’s recent policies are aimed at addressing some of the urgent needs of Chilean society. “Our tax reform is about financing social rights, our provisional reform is about ensuring decent pensions, our health reform is about guaranteeing timely, dignified and without long waiting lists services.”

He also reported that the government “is increasing, together with the business community, workers and SMEs, the minimum wage” and promoting “the reduction of the working day to 40 hours per week.” President Boric added that “our mandate is not only to push these reforms, but also to get them approved and for this we are willing to build bridges and dialogue.” He highlighted that his government’s include promoting a new constitutional process and creating a roadmap for a new constitution.