SANTIAGO – Chile has been struck by the biggest wave of protests in its democratic era this past week, something unprecedented owing to there being no single leader representing multiple causes and protesters’ ability to “self-convoke.”
Unlike other demonstrations in Chile, such as the 2011 student movement led by leftist lawmaker Camila Vallejo, this time no one is leading the mass mobilizations – they are activated via social media and become viral.
Protests begin with dozens of people gathering in public spaces, such as on Santiago’s Plaza Baquedano, the nerve center of the rallies.
More and more people join as the day unfolds until there are hundreds of thousands, who do not leave until the riot police move in.
Middle-class Chileans have so many complaints that the marches are attended by university students through to pensioners, who are demanding action against the high cost of basic services, particularly when it comes to education and health.
“Without a doubt, the use of social networks has been a significant catalyst uniting people and so a lot of information can circulate, which makes it easier for supporters to join,” sociologist Gloria de la Fuente told EFE.
A GENERATION WITHOUT THE TRAUMAS OF THE DICTATORSHIP
From a sociological perspective, it is complicated calling the situation a social movement, according to De la Fuente, because that would mean there is a specific demand, which is not the case.
“The demand has changed over the week,” she said.
“First, it was the hike in metro fares, then the exceptional measure of soldiers in the streets and now the idea of a new change or deal, and that is a new constitution.”
The fact that all these demands have been brought into the mix at the same time is due to young people who have roused the rest of Chilean society, their parents and their grandparents, according to De la Fuente.
“A new generation that doesn’t have the traumas of the dictatorship and have less when it comes to facing the authorities over injustices,” she said.
ALL AGES AND CLASSES
People of all ages and classes can be seen in Plaza Baquedano, all sharing the same indignation and feeding each others’ confidence in the belief that change can happen.
“The people has empowered itself,” Sebastian Mora, a worker in this thirties, told EFE. “We all empower ourselves with just reason. We do not need a spokesperson because the public voice can be heard. It’s evident, it’s latent. We are watching and listening.”
Mora joined the protests because of his indignation, particularly because of the “usury” and “robbery” of the middle classes.
“We pay taxes but everything is privatized: pharmacies, gas stations, businesses, hospitals and highways… and this is the result,” said Mora.
Ailin Salgado, a university student holding a placard against President Sebastian Piñera, considers that the demonstrations “aren’t looking for a leader, because it’s not for a party or a religion.”
“This is about people who want the same rights,” Salgado said.
“We’re fighting for equality. If we’re rowing together, we can achieve the demands we’re asking for.”
Felipe Candia, a middle-aged man holding a Chilean national flag, told EFE that people were assembling because the leaders were all for asking Piñera to “live with dignity.”
“We don’t want to be rich like him (Piñera),” he said.
EVERYONE IS A LEADER
Javiera Delanoir, who lives on Plaza Baquedano, acknowledged there was “no call from anyone specific, but there are a lot of people making appeals on social networks.”
“We respond to this. Maybe if it had been a call from a party there wouldn’t have been the same result,” Delanoir said.
“The fundamental thing is the constitution, which comes from the dictatorship and as a fundamental text of the country everything is wrong,” she said.
“That already leads to the abuses that have been seen in these demonstrations, with curfews and excessive violence.”
Caty Arroyo, another campaigner, denounced that “since the return to democracy, the people has not had equality.”
“There’s a big difference between the rich people, who are few, and all of us.
“We work a lot of hours, our salaries don’t go up and life gets more expensive every day,” she added.
Everyone has a complaint seemingly bigger than the next person, but everyone has come together in solidarity for the demands of everyone else, something that has given these protests the strength that the government was not ready for.