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Chile: the trigger for the crisis is still in place

On 18 October 2019, a student-led protest against the increase in underground fares began in the capital, which subsequently spread throughout the country and showed the population’s discontent with social inequalities. Three years later, the root causes of the movement remain unresolved.


Chile. Photo by Leosoueu / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

The riots, known as 18-O, were violently repressed by the Carabineros and military forces, resulting in around 30 deaths, thousands of injuries and 460 people with eye injuries from pellets or tear gas.

“We still don’t have those social rights that brought people to the streets and for which they fought,” said independent senator Fabiola Campillai, who lost her eyesight when a tear gas grenade hit her face on her way to work during the days of the uprising.

In an interview with Radio and Diario Universidad de Chile, Campillai said that health is still terrible, there are deficiencies in education, pensions are insufficient and there is a serious housing shortage. On the other hand, she said, the human rights violations have not been brought to justice.

According to an annual report by the Universidad Diego Portales, of 8,593 cases filed against state agents up to April this year, only 75 have been brought to trial. These include 35 for the crime of unlawful arrest, five for serious injuries, 18 for harassment and six for torture.

The protests, considered the largest since the end of the military dictatorship in 1990, paved the way for a constitutional process, but a proposal for a new constitution drafted by elected members of Congress was rejected in the 4 September plebiscite.

The National Congress is leading talks with the main political parties to move towards a roadmap for a new constitutional law.

However, the issue is stuck in parliament and there are differences on substantial issues such as the composition of the body in charge of drafting the proposal, the role of experts, special seats and the timing of the process. In fact, the right refused to seal a pact in October, the month that marked a new anniversary of the outbreak.

The last 18-O was the first under the government of Gabriel Boric, a former student leader who participated in the signing of the Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution that put an end to the protests.

In a message from the Palacio de La Moneda, the president acknowledged that little progress has been made in the changes needed by citizens and that reforms to resolve the social rights of Chileans have yet to be implemented.

He recalled that in 2019 millions of people protested for a secure life, decent health, quality education, better pensions and other demands.

Three years on, it is time to get out of our comfort zone to understand what happened there and address the lessons to be learned from that process, he said.

Boric called on politicians to come to an agreement and approve important issues, such as pension reform to ensure decent pensions, health reform to avoid waiting lists in hospitals and tax reform.

To commemorate the date, this year there were demonstrations in the central Plaza de la Dignidad, the epicentre of the outbreak, and also in several capital cities and in cities such as Valparaíso, Temuco and Concepción.

Some analysts believe that the tense situation in Chile, aggravated by two years of the pandemic and international problems, could lead to greater instability because the detonation of a new pandemic in the country’s capital city could be a source of instability.

(Translated by Rene Phelvin – Email:

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