Protesters in downtown Santiago in Chile during the 2019 protests. Credit: Rodrigo Mayorga.
Chile is currently facing one of the worst political crises since the restoration of democracy.
Wrongly attributed to an increase in transportation fares over two weeks ago, demonstrations broke out in the capital, Santiago, and soon after expanded nationwide uncovering a widespread awareness of pervasive income inequalities.
Let us remember that alongside its economic growth and stability in the region, Chile sits consistently, and shamefully, in the bottom rank of OECD income distribution analyses.
Analyses fall short in claiming that despite the rise in the cost of living over the past three decades wages have increased at a similar pace.
Yet the civil unrest is not about the cost of living, or nor that alone, but the many other things that are fundamental for citizens’ welfare. Healthcare, education, water supply, pensions; these are all basic services that in Chile are heavily privatised since the current constitution, neoliberal and undemocratic, prioritises private property over solidarity and minimises the regulatory authority of the state.
After almost forty years ruled by that constitution, Chileans – and the large community of foreign-born residents – now hold a whole range of different worldviews compared to those of the 1980s.
But those worldviews still seem to be so far away from politicians’ minds, despite the recently reformed composition of the parliament seeking more representativity.
Streaming through the streets, and with no identifiable spokesperson or leader, protesters have not just denounced the injustice of the system but begged for a radical shift in the agenda.
The Piñera administration, however, bites back with military and police forces in which hundreds have been shot and beaten, leaving at least 20 dead across the country – accounts may vary as the Chilean Medical Association reports coercion over emergency practitioners exposing causes of death, while volunteer nurses and paramedics improvise first aid posts.
United Nations’ human rights offices are still to examine the allegations.
What, then, is wrong with the European Union institutions?
The United Nations conference for climate change (COP25) was initially planned to be held in Chile later this year. Climate is, indeed, all important.
Yet far from making the conference conditional to the complete halt of repression and thorough investigation of human rights violations amid the protests, the EU, probably the most influential sponsor, seemed to have turned a blind eye to the country’s situation.
For only after Piñera announced its cancellation did the EU High Representative make a public release.
This is not to ask for external interventionism but taking a stance for democracy would have been greatly welcomed.
Official media have remained silent, and EU affairs proceeded as usual.
Shall we talk about the contradictions beneath Europe’s environmentalist morality?