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Chile: the social agenda of the government doesn't satisfy the demands of people on the streets

By Sergio Reyes, from Punta Arenas, Chile. *

Chile is on its seventh day of protests and revolt. People’s participation is in crescendo. Hard to explain how in seven days these people turned against the neoliberal economic system that shaped a society that very few now defend. Many activists for social change find it strange why it was so difficult to mobilize people just a few weeks ago for the same causes that now the masses are embracing.

The Chilean ruling class that benefited from the bonanza of the capitalist neoliberal system, are also finding hard to blame the usual evils, like the communists, for this massive movement that is expressing its power right out on the streets. The right-wing coalition in power, is now trying to maneuver between understanding what is going on and applying control of the state and the military to regain a hold of the situation.

On Tuesday, October 22, President Pinera, presented Chileans with his “social agenda”, hoping that the movement would accept it and start slowing down the movement. This clearly didn’t happen. However, it is important to learn what he proposed.

a) Pensions. An immediate 20% increase of the “solidarity” pensions for those who receive no pensions, which is about 590 thousand people. Also a 20% increase for those which no pension, which is about 945 thousand people. Increase in the state contribution toward low pensions for middle class and women, which they calculate in about 500 thousand workers. More funds to improve pensions for senior citizens who are not self-functioning.

b) Health and medicine. Creation of a catastrophic insurance. State contributions to pay for medicine that are not included in special programs for chronic illnesses. Widening the program from the state health insurance FONASA with pharmacies to reduce the price of medicine. Which they estimate will benefit 12 million people.

c) Guaranteed minimal income. Creation of a guaranteed minimal income of $350 thousand pesos for all full-time workers who earn less than that amount. This funding would go, however, to employers to supplement better salaries.

d) Electricity cost. Creation of a mechanism to make pricing of electricity stable, starting with canceling the recent 9.2% increase retroactively.

e) Increasing taxes for higher income individuals. Application of 40% tax for monthly income over 8 million pesos (about $11,500 dollars), which they indicate would increase tax collection by 160 million dollars.

f) Creation of a public defenders organization for victims of delinquency.

g) Strengthening the Municipal Common Fund, to level resources for low and high income municipalities.

h) Reducing the salaries of congress people and other executives in public administration and reducing the amount of representatives and limiting the amount of reelections.

i) Request to Congress to accelerate processing a series of laws presented by the Executive on programs for children and youth; catastrophic health insurance; universal childcare system; program to reduce real estate taxes for older people in situation of poverty.

j) Create a reconstruction plan to rebuild infrastructure and assets destroyed by the present riots.

People see in owe and mistrust the proposed “social agenda”. The lowering of salaries for congress people has been in the agenda for at least 8 years and have never been resolved. Now, suddenly, it will happen. The apparently generous program to improve pensions maintains the current system with the infamous AFPs (Administrators of Pension Funding corporations), forcing all Chileans to, in fact, subsidize those corporations. What people are demanding is no more AFPs but a new system. Same concept is true for subsidies for employers who pay low salaries. Higher taxes are for individuals and not corporations, and so on and so forth.

President Pinera and his cabinet all declare publically “We have listened to the people.” Yet, it is clear they have not. They are not hearing a very basic message: it is the neoliberal capitalist system stupid! People are demanding to change everything, starting with a change of the Constitution that in 1980 was passed by Pinochet in a plebiscite with machine guns aiming at people’s heads. They are also demanding to bring the soldiers back to their barracks.

The president is negotiating with the “opposition”, calling on meetings with the heads of these parties, yet the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Wide Front, have refused to do so, understanding that they will also be judged by history, in particular the older left parties, socialist and communist, for the responsibility in negotiating and/or administering this current neoliberal system with the civilian-military dictatorship of Pinochet. These masses on the streets don’t recognize their leadership. This is a massive movement without leadership.

Some social movements and unions are attempting to provide leadership, calling on to hold people’s assemblies and develop demands. This is not being followed by the masses, who will not attend meetings, but are willing to demonstrate on the street for hours even suffering under police repression using water and gas cannons, and tear gas grenades. Likewise, the massive demonstrations are separating themselves from small radical groups that like to lit barricades and set buildings, infrastructure, buses, or metro wagons on fire. These attacks served at the beginning of the rebellion to criminalize the discontent, but even the government now realizes that cannot be done.

Today, one location alone in Santiago, Plaza Baquedano, held more than a million and half people demonstrating in peace, chanting and dancing. This massive attendance is replicated throughout the country from north to south.

Unfortunately, the numbers of people detained and people killed during the riots continue to increase. The National Institute of Human Rights has presented a series of protection recourses in courts, including for cases of torture during detention.

Clearly, the government is not in tune with the demands of the people and the measures being taken will not succeed. The protests are not declining. They are growing. And it will continue until channels are open to change the economic, social and political system.

* Sergio Reyes was a political prisoner under Pinochet 1973-76, exiled in the U.S. 1976-2017.