Wednesday, August 29, 2007

'Modelo Chileno' Doesn't Make the C.U.T.

Today was a massive day of strikes and protests throughout the entire country of Chile. Called early this week by the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Chile (CUT), todays strikes and student protests were in opposition to what has been dubbed the 'Chilean Model.' Despite the booming price of copper, Chile's primary export, the country has an unemployment rate of 7% and has the 11th worst wealth distribution in the world. To put this in perspective, Chile, lauded as one of the strongest economies in Latin America, in this category ranks with Sub Saharan Africa. The minimum wage, less than $150,000 pesos a month (that's less than $285 a month), the completely inefficient Transantiago public transit system, poor school conditions, and a poor health care system were all causes for the protest. (The primary culprit for Chile's current problems dates back to the neoliberal shock treatment and constitutional rewriting that occurred during the 17 years of the military dictatorship headed by Agosto Pinochet. To get a better idea of what this looked like scope out Orlando SepĂșlveda's article from last months ISR).

After a relatively quiet morning, several thousand workers and protesters in the capitol were attacked by police on horse with tear gas and by guanacos (tanks that have water canons attached to them named after the llama-relative of the same name that has a propensity to spit), and over 300 were detained after the marchers tried to march on the presidential palace, la Moneda, because they had not obtained a permit to occupy the building. Also, despite the Union's call for peaceful demonstrations, which was carried out by the CUT members in the streets, some students tossed rocks, further provoking a backlash. Nonetheless, police indiscriminately gassed, water cannoned, and arrested protesters and non participants, even managing to club a left-wing senator in the head (watching the excuses offered by the head of police for this attack on the news was quite an entertaining display of cover-your-ass acrobatics).

In the North and South, workers blockaded streets and held large marches. In the timber industry region, the lumber unions held a rally in the middle of a major transport route in memorial of a worker who was killed by company goons (i.e. the cops) during a labor dispute.

In many senses Chile is aflame. Students and workers are sick of nearly 20 years since the end of the dictatorship without any change to Pinochet's constitution or, more importantly, alterations of the brutal Neoliberal measures implemented with the aid of Milton Freidmen and his Chicago boys and the torture and state terror employed to crush dissent. While Chile's President, Michelle Bachellet is by no means a Hugo Chavez, it is clear that the fight against neoliberalism is alive in the Southern Cone. Whether South America's leaders are willing to acknowledge it or not, they have a problem on their hands.