Dispatch: Chilean Protests Challenge Governing Strategy
September 15, 2011 | 1812 GMT
Analyst Karen Hooper examines ongoing strikes and protests in Chile and their impact on the strategy of President Sebastian Pinera’s government.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Another week of protests confronted Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, kicking off on Sept. 11 commemorating the 1973 coup against former Chilean President Salvador Allende.
The trouble continued with a two-day health care workers’ strike and culminated on Sept. 14 with another student protest. Chilean students are currently negotiating with the Pinera government on a four-point plan demanding the freeze of two bills before the legislature that would reform Chilean education that were written without the consultation of students and teachers. The students are also demanding that all negotiations between students and the government be conducted with live TV coverage to ensure transparency. The students and teachers are also demanding that state funding be suspended for all private educational institutions. Students are also hoping that an Oct. 7 deadline be extended so that they may finish their semesters and not lose access to current scholarships and loans.
Meanwhile, tensions are building with neighboring country Argentina. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has canceled her visit to Chile, citing scheduling conflicts. In reality, the situation is that Fernandez has an election coming up and cannot afford to be seen with Pinera.
The simmering discomfort between the two countries highlights the extreme differences between the two neighbors. Ideologically, the two countries could not be more different. Chile has embraced fiscally conservative policies, low spending and high growth and deals with civic unrest on an ad hoc basis. On the other side of the Andean border, Argentina’s entire sociopolitical structure is built around an authoritarian government that uses its power to redistribute income to ensure popular support.
But things are changing for Chile. More than 20 years after the collapse of the Pinochet dictatorship, a whole generation of students has come into their own. These students have gone to college in record numbers and never experienced the fear or repression under the dictatorship that the previous generations did. At this point the Pinera government is having to deal with the kind of popular pressure that Argentina has been dealing with for a long time.
The government will have to make concessions, but the concern will be that every concession made proves strikes and protests to be an effective form of negotiation. But Pinera is a fiscal conservative, and every concession will come dear to him. But the fact of the matter is that incremental concessions may not be enough to satisfy the protesting populace, and despite Pinera’s fiscally conservative policies, these protests may force him to seriously reconsider the relationship of the Chilean state to social spending.
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