Can Pinera Deliver the Kind of Change Chileans Want?

Can Pinera Deliver the Kind of Change Chileans Want?
An anti-government protester waves a Chilean flag in Santiago, Oct. 29, 2019 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

Chile witnessed the largest protests in its history last weekend, with more than 1 million people filling the streets of Santiago to demand the government deal with economic inequality and the high cost of living—and to express their outrage over the authorities’ repression of an initial wave of protests earlier this month. For a moment, the massive demonstrations seemed like the climax to a movement that began two weeks ago in response to a subway fare hike, and that had seemed to be on the cusp of fizzling out.

Instead, protests have continued this week, and more are planned for next week. It wouldn’t be surprising if they carried deep into November. President Sebastian Pinera must think so too, as he announced Wednesday that Chile would no longer host a major Asia-Pacific trade summit in mid-November or a U.N. climate conference in early December.

Chileans seem set on change, and the embattled Pinera, a conservative billionaire who can’t seem to say or do the right thing, now has his back to the wall. Chile is far and away the most socially and economically stable country in Latin America, having cut its poverty rate from 30 percent to a miraculous 6.4 percent in less than two decades. So the protests came as a surprise to many observers given the recent unrest in more volatile countries, such as Ecuador and Bolivia. But hidden within Chile’s economic success, it turns out, was a trend that should sound familiar to both middle-class Americans and protesters as far away as Lebanon.

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