Protest in Chile, October 14, 2019
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In October 2019, Chile surprised the world with a social uprising that no one had foreseen. The explosion of discontent expressed by millions of Chileans who took to the streets, even in a highly repressive context, ripped the frail stitchings of Latin America’s “model neoliberal country”. This was not a conjunctural phenomenon but rather a breaking point brought about by the accumulation of unsatisfied social demands that the current political system is unable to absorb and process. For this very reason, significant constitutional change was put forward as the main demand to put an end to an economic, political and social model that is not working.
This structural imbalance holds the key to analyzing the current context and the perspectives opening up for Chile’s political future. A comprehensive analysis of the national survey conducted by CELAG (Latin American Strategic Centre for Geopolitics) shows that the moment of political turmoil the country is experiencing has not been eclipsed by the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic– although it does seem to be accentuating the deficiencies of the current economic model in terms of the inequality it generates. In the last year alone, 4 out of every 10 Chileans tried to access credits to finance their basic expenses and the pandemic has dealt an additional blow to the pockets of 3 out of every 4 Chileans: half (50.2 percent) saw their economic resources reduced by the current situation and a further 1 out of 4 (23.9 percent) lost their source of income entirely.
The majority opinion regarding the current government is still very much against Sebastián Piñera: 71.7 percent of Chileans rate his management as negative, and he has an approval rating of -52.9 percent (difference between negative and positive). Setting the Covid-19 context aside, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of those surveyed consider the government abused its powers in the use of the state of emergency and curfew during the last year—a fact that is closely related to three quarters (74.3 percent) of citizens approving of the social protests that started in October.
The majority of society (61.6 percent) believes Chile is experiencing a moment of political transformation. This seems to question the widely held idea that Chilean society is mostly apathetic and opens an interesting prospect in analyzing what will happen when the peak of the pandemic passes and the waters of national politics are stirred up again. As in other countries, when asked about the sensations around the current situation, the predominant feeling, by far, is uncertainty (48.7 percent). However, when asked which word best expresses feelings towards constitutional change, positive sensations climbed to 60.7 percent, spread between “hope” (43.5 percent) and “confidence” (17.2 percent), thereby creating a highly positive climate of expectation.
This brief overview shows us that a large part of the social imaginary of Chileans is being reconfigured in a process that does not necessarily have a univocal direction. The economic system is being questioned ever more as the gravitational center of a societal model that is also in crisis. A model where strongly rooted neoliberal ideas are starting to coexist with emerging perceptions about the role of the state as guarantor of basic rights (like for example, access to a resource as vital as water as well as healthcare and education). How much Chilean politics moves in a progressive or conservative direction will depend on the ability of political forces to bring together and champion such demands. There is fertile ground for progressivism to do exactly that.
Gisela Brito has a Master’s degree in Political Analysis from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and a degree in Sociology from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). She is currently studying for a doctorate in Political Science and International Relations at the UCM. She has carried out postgraduate studies in Electoral Campaigns and Communication.
Guillermo González has a degree in Sociology with a focus on Social Diagnosis and teaches Sociology at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Electoral Studies at the National University of San Martín (UNSAM).