For the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of Chilean citizens have flooded the streets of Santiago, Chile’s capital city, to protest the passage of a 4 percent hike in public transportation fares. The new law, which went into effect on October 18, infuriated Chile’s youth and working class, who use the country’s metro system multiple times a day. The new fare would affect these groups disproportionately, taking a huge chunk out of the monthly wages of citizens already bordering poverty.
Over a week of continuous protests against what comes out to an increase of about 30 pesos, or $0.04, in metro fares might seem extreme. But this new law is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to economic inequality in Chile. With 1 percent of the population earning 33 percent of the nation’s wealth, socioeconomic divides are stark. Around half of Chile’s working class makes less than $550 per month, and as of 2017, 6 percent of the country’s population makes less than $6 per day. Even college-educated workers struggle to make ends meet, with 75 percent of the average Chilean income going towards paying off debt accrued from one of the most expensive universities in the world. These harsh economic realities make even a 4 percent increase in public transportation fares intolerable to the masses.
Chile has made huge strides in reducing poverty since the fall of the Pinochet regime 30 years ago, but the effects of the military government are difficult to erase. Part of this is due to the forced relocation of the poor that took place under Pinochet, which saw some 25,000 families forcibly removed from the Santiago’s center and relocated to the city’s outskirts. This “spatial segregation” still exists today and is ultimately what has created such dependence on the public transportation system. The protests have been met with a considerable amount of opposition. After the first day of protests, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera declared a state of emergency and dispatched the military to address the protests. Officers have been reported using tear gas and rubber bullets, and so far, 7,000 protesters have been arrested and 19 have been killed. Pinera has attempted to remedy the situation by passing “marginally higher taxes on the rich, a boost to the minimum wage, a 20 percent increase in the lowest pensions, and more reasonable costs for medicine,” but whether or not these measures are enough to appease the public remains to be seen. After all, “it’s not 30 pesos,” said many of the signs carried by protesters, “It’s 30 years.”