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Chile’s Protesters Voice Anger Over Inequality, Services

Neighbors gather while taking part in a neighborhood town hall meeting in Santiago, Chile November 2, 2019. Picture taken November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza
Chile's Protesters Voice Anger Over Inequality, Services
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Many people in Chile are getting involved in a debate about the South American country’s future after weeks of violent unrest.

Some of the discussion comes from groups like the Social Unity Roundtable, a civil society group that seeks to represent students, workers, environmental groups and others. It estimates that 10,000 people have attended different meetings across the country.

The meetings center on discussions about inequality, government services and the constitution.

President Sebastián Piñera has answered the protests by replacing cabinet ministers with ones who are considered more moderate.

That action has not satisfied the demonstrators.

A planned increase in the price for public transportation appears to have fueled long-held frustration about the cost of living and unequal division of wealth in the country. The government has since withdrawn the rate increase. But people also are angry over poor quality government services and long waits for medical care.

The violence that has spread across the country in recent weeks has caused at least 23 deaths and injured more than 2,000 people.

More than 7,000 people have been arrested and the protests have cost an estimated $3 billion in damage and lost earnings, Reuters reports.

Demonstrators are sprayed by riot police water canons during a protest against Chile's government in Concepcion, Chile October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra
Demonstrators are sprayed by riot police water canons during a protest against Chile's government in Concepcion, Chile October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra

Public opinion studies suggest that a majority support the protests. But people are also upset about the damage to the country’s businesses and transportation system.

Piñera has grown unpopular. He now faces accusations of human rights abuses by his government. Last week, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet sent a team to investigate. Bachelet is a former president of Chile.

Chile’s Human Rights National Institute is preparing legal cases related to accusations of killings and torture, including sexual violence.

Luis Torres is a computer engineer and physics professor. He said he wants a new government and to push the president from office. “We want a new constituent assembly, a new constitution and to impeach Piñera for crimes against humanity committed in recent days,” Torres said.

Torres is 58 years old. He is nearing the retirement age of 65 when he will receive only a small percentage of his former yearly earnings. He said, “With two university degrees, I’m going to retire with 200,000 pesos ($270) per month.” He said he makes seven or eight times that amount now.

Some people are also discussing Chile’s 1980 constitution. General Augusto Pinochet approved the document during his military rule. Critics say the constitution fails to guarantee basic rights such as public healthcare. They say it does not represent modern Chile. Some opposition parties have called for a new constitution.

Cristian Diaz spoke to Reuters recently at a gathering in the central part of Santiago, the nation’s capital. “The first act of revolution is to get together with others because the system wants you alone, it wants you to be an individualist,” Diaz said.

“This is incredible to see so many people…united by the same cause, debating,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Anthony Esposito reported this story for Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

frustration –n. a feeling of anger or annoyance caused by being unable to do something

society –n. a group of people who live in an area and have common interests, beliefs or activities

constituent assembly –n. elected representatives based on popular vote who are to prepare and enact a constitution or similar governing document

impeach –v. to charge (a public official) with a crime done while in office

commit –v. to do (something that is illegal or harmful)

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