Comments, Globe, In Focus, Latin America

‘Chilenazo’ or the burning oasis

You have to go much further back to understand how, with or without the economic growth vaunted by Piñera who garnered the support of barely 25% of Chileans, inequality has survived over the centuries. Chile is among the twenty countries in the world with the worst income distribution, according to the Gini index. In Chile, MPs earn up to 25 times the average salary. And the problem is that in Chile this is not the only inequality.

 

Photo by Marcela Via

Pablo Sapag M.

 

“In the midst of this troubled Latin America, look at Chile: a true oasis with a stable democracy, the country is growing along wages and we are creating 170,000 jobs a year.”

That’s exactly how it was before. And with similar arrogance, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera was dispatched just ten days before the “oasis” was devoured by a fire not seen since 1983 which saw the biggest popular uprising ever staged against Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Many blame the now deceased general for a sustained socio-economic individualistic and neoliberal model in a political system run by and for the benefit of the elite.

But in reality, you have to go much further back to understand how, with or without the economic growth vaunted by Piñera who garnered the support of barely 25% of Chileans, inequality has survived over the centuries.

There’s a reason why Chile is among the twenty countries in the world with the worst income distribution, according to the Gini index. If the Palma Index is used (a Chilean economist, by the way), the “oasis” occupies an even more shameful position.

Photo by Marcela Via

In Chile, MPs earn up to 25 times the average salary (just over 500 euros). In countries like Spain or France, it’s barely three times the average. Nowhere else in Latin America is the difference so scandalous.

The problem is that in Chile this is not the only inequality. The so-called “professionals”, that is, people in graduate professions, especially in finance, law or medicine, charge several times their counterparts in most other countries.

They are the technocrats behind the so-called Transantiago, a privately-run system of public transport that has turned out to be one of the worst management policies of a Latin American government in decades.

In that flawed unfeasible scheme – for a Latin American city like Santiago – which the social-democratic president who engineered it described as a “world class transport” system, passengers have been dodging ticket payment by between 20% and 40% on minibuses and buses since the first day.

Now the same has happened to the underground, which being a “public” company like the other few remaining Chilean state-owned companies, is operating like a private one: according to profits and financial gain but not necessarily according to the public good.

And it is not that people stopped paying despite armed guards just because of the ‘tarifazo’ or astronomic prices that confirmed the Santiago underground as one of the most expensive in the world in relation to average salaries.

They did it because similar examples of price abuse are also prevalent in each and every one of Chile’s markets.

Markets, because there are no public services as such. Health, education and pensions are also considered to varying degrees businesses governed by profit and the law of supply and demand.

Photo by Marcela Via

Obviously, this is how they reproduce the congenital disparity that exists in Chilean society.

But the technocrats justify everything by spinning semantics.

The rise in the price of public transport is attributed, by the minister of the department (who has an English surname), to “myriad” factors that appear to operate independently without the authorities being able to respond in any way.

It is the invisible hand of the market, of course.

Another minister, the minister of the economy (who has a French surname), proposes a similar solution to the ‘tarifazo’: to raise the price earlier so as to slightly offset tickets prices in the longer term.

The manager of the underground company (who also has a French surname) indicates that although the underground is expensive, lengthy extensions have been built that have to be financed: although to achieve this he never suggested raising taxes in a country where several Chilean political leaders boast equally distant sounding surnames and are in the Forbes list of the richest in the world.

The interior minister (who has an English surname) and is the first cousin of Piñera, speaks of vandalism. The head of one of the government’s parties (she has a German surname) who he shares his faith with, had no hesitation in asking for a state of emergency and curfew that was imposed in the most populated regions of Chile.

Demonstration in Madrid for Chile. Photo by Pablo Sapag

Another politician (who also has a German surname) is linked on the social networks with two other politicians of the opposition who have English and Croatian surnames, respectively.

When Chile became autonomous after its war of independence, the fact that it had been a poor colony, essentially military in nature and with hardly any Creole elite, led this elite to strengthen itself with a handful of immigrants, in the main of European origin.

This is when the model of intensive exploitation of natural resources using unskilled labour to generate high returns to be distributed among the landowners (previously assigned land by the Spanish) and greedy fresh immigrants was borne.

Their skin tone and alleged cultural superiority have been used as justification to date for the learned despotism they wield in governing the great mixed race mass who remain unrepresented and in many cases aware of the difference in racial and cultural status that sets them apart from the political, economic, media, military and academic elites that rule in Chile.

Long before Pinochet, Minister Portales had already patented during the 19th century a model that was later updated with a theory put forward by the Chicago School and given the fancy name of social market economy, or in other words, neoliberalism.

Demonstration in Madrid for Chile. Photo by Pablo Sapag

The key economic issues, however, are the same and when the system fails, as has been the case on so many other occasions since the very start, the military makes an appearance to douse the flames and once again save an oasis that Piñera himself has described as “at war “.

According to his wife, against “foreigners”. However, unless those of mixed race are empowered once and for all and – as has already happened in other Latin American countries – represent themselves in this Chilean oasis, there will never be lasting peace. Until the next time.

NT:*‘Chilenazo’:  Chile’s package of neoliberal policies

(Translated by Nigel Conibear)

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