Santiago de Chile exploded into the most intense expression of social unrest it’s seen in probably ever. The city is literally up in flames, roads are blocked, protesters are rioting, and the MILITARY took on the streets to restore order. And there is a CURFEW. Over half of the Metro stations (77 out of 135) have been “considerably damaged”, 9 of them were completely burnt down. Let that sink in: completely burnt down.
What the fresh fuck happened? How did the most solid and stable economy in Latin America turned into a war zone in a short week? Like everything that happens seemingly overnight, this one had been cooking for a while. I would argue, over a decade. So, how we got here: the straw that broke the camel’s back was an increase on the Metro fare, which led to mass fare evasion initiated in protest by high school students – who are the most badass in the world – and joined in by the rest of the population in the following days.
The metro fare was raised to the equivalent of a bit over a buck – one dollar – which would mean 21% of your minimum wage would go to transportation, and for 70% of Chileans it means they would spend between 13-14% of their monthly wages on public transport. Part of the issue is that public transport is not totally public, and so these increases are for transnational corporations’ profits.
This fare evasion tactic quickly escalated into what can only best be described as a complete and utter clusterfuck. When the Minister of Economy suggested folks should get up earlier to catch the Metro at the cheaper off-peak time, and President Piñera was photographed dining at an upscale restaurant Friday night when the city was going up in flames, shit didn’t go down well.
And what had been a call for mass fare evasion in protest turned into rioting, looting, arson, public transportation being screeched to a complete halt, a breakdown of the social contract, the military taking on the streets, and a curfew being imposed in an attempt to get people to stay home. The Metro hike has been rolled back to pacify the masses, but the thing is, this was never about just the Metro.
The photo encapsulates the best summary of the issues I’ve seen, the sign reads “Rebellion in Santiago against the precarization of life”. Basically, the neoliberal capitalist economy built on the back of most to benefit a few hitting the fan. Chile has the highest per capita income in Latin America and the biggest social inequity. So it looks fantastic on paper, but it’s actually doing horribly (a lot like San Francisco if you really think about it).
Let’s be clear:
- This is not about right vs. left.
- This is not about the price of the Metro.
- This is not about the corruption of the elites.
- This is not about the shameful health system, or the pathetic pension system.
- This is not about the price increase of most basic goods and services.
- This is not about the criminalizing of protest.
This is about the fact that most people are set up to struggle for life. Most people need to make humongous efforts on the daily just to cover their most basic needs and have a decent life. They’ve been set up by a system that couldn’t give a fuck about them and has been designed to milk them for all they’re worth, while a few elites laugh all the way to the bank and back. And that system is called neoliberal capitalism, that by definition requires patriarchy, white supremacy, false dichotomies, and oppression in order to function. And hopefully, we’re not gonna uphold it any more.
My less optimistic loved ones believe that the “agreement” in Chile from here on out will be to fuck over most people just a little bit less in order to quench social unrest and go back to “normal”, and that at this late stage of the current system we don’t even need violent repression for too long cause the unspoken agreement is that we get to blame “those criminals” and we think we’re all clean and good and we can go back to “the way things are”. I have to admit, that’s probably how it’s gonna play out, but what I really dream about is the beginning of the end of the nation state as we know it and a way of organizing that is people-centric rather than focused exclusively on perpetual growth and profit. I don’t see why not. Actually, I see a gazillion reasons why not, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Chile is just the most recent example of what happens when we forget that we’re all in this together. We cannot have “the economy” look good on paper while so many people are struggling to function in a system that by design disdains them without ALL OF US being handed the bill. And the bill that Chile got this weekend might take way longer to pay off than the government originally anticipated. Goddess bless us all.