Over the past few weeks, news coverage of protests throughout Latin America have focused primarily on Venezuela. However, protests against president Michelle Bachelet in Chile have begun. Tens of thousands of Chileans took to the streets of Santiago earlier this week in an effort to persuade president Bachelet to enact her left-leaning reform agenda. The most important demand of the protesters was a change in the constitution. Chile’s current constitution was enacted during the military dictatorship led by Pinochet and protesters are demanding a new constitution that would emphasize the protection of the rights of all Chilean citizens.
Before the election of Bachelet, Chile made the news often because of the widespread student protests centering on education reform. The student movement was not present during the protests earlier this week because of their recent collaboration with Bachelet regarding education reforms. Michelle Bachelet returned to office for a second term following last December’s election, which she won with a wide margin after campaigning to revamp the constitution. Bachelet succeeds conservative Sebastian Piñera and she was sworn back into office on March 12th. While the protests were mostly peaceful, some violence broke out between the police and demonstrators. At least 50 protesters were arrested and three policemen were injured in clashes.
Protesters who spoke to the media stressed that their actions were simply to warn president Bachelet about her lack of action towards the outdated constitution. Oscar Rementeria, a spokesman for gay-rights group Movilh commented, "This is not a protest against Ms. Bachelet or for her, it's just an alert for the political class so they know people have demands.”1 Those who organized the protest estimated that nearly 100,000 people were present, however the police estimated the figure at 25,000.2
Aside from education reform, Bachelet also promised to improve healthcare and reduce income inequality during her campaign. During her time in office Bachelet also hopes to change political and economic configurations that have been present since the Pinochet dictatorship that ended in 1990.1 In terms of education reform, plans include an increase in taxes in order to have a free university system.
As one of Latin America’s richest and most stable countries, Chile has thrived over the last decade. However, despite the progress, protests have also accompanied this advancement. Chileans from all walks of life continue to demand free education and a change in income disparity. While Bachelet has begun to tackle the education issues, within less than a month of taking office the people are giving her a friendly reminder not to forget her promises from the campaign trail. In order for Chile to continue on their path of advancement, Michelle Bachelet must live up to her campaign promises or the people of Chile will make sure they elect someone who will move the country forward.
1. “Chile’s Michelle Bachelet faces first protest.” BBC News. March 22, 2014. Pg 1-2. Web. March 27, 2014.
2. Taj, Mitra. “Protestors in Chile keep heat in Bachelet to make good on reforms.” Reuters UK. March 23, 2014. Web. Pg 1-2. March 17, 2014.