By Laura Rodríguez Peña
Latin America has been a region historically oppressed by its own leaders. Even after colonisation, the upper classes tended to monopolize power causing an ever-present sense of frustration among the poorer classes. However, it seems that the second half of 2019 is a time for rebellion, of political awakening. Several Latin American countries are experiencing strikes and riots across continents.
Even though there are similarities between the strikes in Latin America it would be irresponsible to ignore their particularities and the context behind each rebellion. With this in mind, I will detail the case of Chile and Bolivia; two very different nations and in the epicentre of what is unfolding.
In recent decades, Chile has been the best example of a growing economy and stability in Latin America. This has made the country a popular destination for economic migrants. Thousands seeking a better life, especially from Venezuela and Colombia have fled South and attempted to settle in the region. Do not misunderstand me, however; this is not to suggest that Chile is an ideal refuge.
During the Pinochet dictatorship, 1974-1990, Chile implemented economic measures proposed by the Chicago boys (Michael Friedman school of thought). These neoliberal strategies ignored national contexts in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach to economics. Some of the measures applied were the privatization of pensions and market deregulation. This snowballed into even more aggressive economic policies, such as the privatization of water.
The Chileans never really showed discontentment with the interventions since the benefits gave them an economic stability. However, this year an increase in public transportation fares became the straw that broke the camel’s back. Other straws in the haystack is one of the most expensive educations in Latin America, a healthcare in disrepair, insecure jobs and salaries, historic government embezzlement and corruption, socio-economic inequality and, of course, the fact that Chile is the only country in the world where the nation’s water is a private commodity.
As a result, the people of Chile been in a state of near-permanent protest since October 18. Even though the president has responded, people continue to clamour change peacefully, even manifesting in strikes across the country.
Not far from this panorama, North of Chile, the social climate in Bolivia is similarly effervescent. For centuries, the people of Bolivia were oppressed by colonizers and oligarchs. They took advantage of the indigenous population, created a feeling of dissent within these downtrodden communities manifesting in the democratic election of the current president, Evo Morales, in December 2005. Morales is an indigenous Bolivian, who rose to power atop the promise of representing the forgotten of his nation. He has since held on to power.
In truth, the positive impact of Evo Morales’ presidency is undeniable; the economic growth in the country has been around 4.9% for the past 12 years. and he has overseen the inclusion of the indigenous population in the policy making and the governance of Bolivia.
Nevertheless, the recent elections of October 20th have led to widespread unrest. There were noticeable irregularities in the vote count, leading to suggestions that the elections were manipulated. Under Bolivian democratic law, the ‘victory’ means Morales will remain in power until 2025.
Upon witnessing the situation escalate very quickly into violent protests in Bolivia, the OAS (Organization of American States) decided to audit the election, suggesting a second round of elections.
Morales and his government allege that a second round is not necessary, and they won’t yield to international institutions. However, thanks to the seemingly unending public outcry, Morales agreed to the audit. This organization will revise the procedures and the results; if they find something irregular the Bolivian government has committed to apply the suggested methods to resolve the situation.
These are just two (of many) examples of how Latin America is experiencing a period of instability and uncertainty, but also of awakening. The people have had their apathy shaken from their shoulders and feel empowered in affecting change. They are no longer scared of speak their minds, to not conform.
Unfortunately, the consequences are prejudicial for Latin American economies, with growth in the various tourist sectors already taking a nosedive. Recently the Chilean president Sebastian Piñera had to cancel two important events that were supposed to take place in Santiago this year: The Climate Change Conference (COP-25) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.
Hopefully this will open the eyes of the national governments in both countries mentioned – or even in all the countries of the region – to make real changes that prioritize listening to what the people of Latin America have to say, or else face the potential oncoming consequences of their inactivity.
Image credit: Oren