Protests, Discontent Roil Andean Nations

(CN) — Five people were killed this week as protests against government repression continue in Chile. The widespread protests began with massive rallies in October and show no sign of abating.

Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence that police used excessive force against protesters, injuring thousands of people, whether they were engaged in violent actions or not.

A wind-carved stone formation in Chile’s Atacama Desert. (Photo via Pixabay)

The country’s emergency services treated 11,564 people injured during demonstrations from Oct. 18 to Nov. 22 last year, the Health Ministry told Human Rights Watch.

This week’s deaths include a protester run over by a police truck and another run over by a hijacked bus, according to La Nación, a Chilean newspaper.

After the outbreak of the largest protests in the history of Chile, the government agreed to initiate a process to draft a new constitution.

The protests were triggered by a increase in subway fares, but the underlying conflict reflects public anger at low wages and the privatization of health care, education and pensions. Recent polling shows that 85% of the country supports the protests and 80% want a new constitution.

Chile’s constitution mandates that the state can intervene only when basic needs cannot be met by private agents. The result has left many basic rights, such as health care, education and pensions, in the control of private individuals and corporations whose motives are commercial, according to La Nación.

The neoliberal model was introduced during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1989) and successive governments have followed its key aspects: privatization of public services, including water, financial liberalization and encouragement of foreign investments.

Unrest has engulfed the neoliberal Andean region for months as the effects of military coups and authoritarian policies have ignited popular uprisings in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Pollution, vanishing water rights, eroded soils, rising prices, stagnant wages, increasingly unaffordable healthcare and an indebted education system framed the everyday lives of Andean citizens, urban and rural alike. Until recently, despite a few moments of upheaval that led to limited change, the model seemed resilient to discontent and dissent.

Yet over the past few months, social unrest has engulfed each of these countries and popular pressure is forcing the political and financial elites to reconsider their attachment to austerity for the poor and prosperity for themselves.

But whether the wave of Andean unrest in any country will produce a rare example of democratic transformation from the bottom remains to be seen.

(Courthouse News correspondent Miguel Patricio is based in El Salvador.)

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