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Social protests in Chile: inequalities and other inconvenient truths about Latin America's poster child

Donoso, Sofia and Sehnbruch, Kirsten (2020) Social protests in Chile: inequalities and other inconvenient truths about Latin America's poster child. Global Labour Journal, 11 (1).

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Identification Number: 10.15173/glj.v11i1.4217


The massive protests that exploded in Chile in October 2019 have left the country reeling from shock. The extensive participation of the population in demonstrations in Santiago and in all regional capitals, as well as the exceptional degree of violence and destruction that accompanied them, prompted President Piñera to declare a state of emergency that lasted for nine days, put the military on the streets and imposed a curfew. This has left many international observers wondering what went wrong in a country that has often been held up by mainstream opinion as the poster child to other Latin America countries. Relatively high growth rates have been accompanied by sharp declines in poverty, steady improvements in educational outcomes, and even recent declines in inequality1 – all in the context of a relatively high-functioning democracy. The question emerges whether these protests are an exceptional occurrence limited to the context of Chile, or whether they are an indication of a more widespread malaise in one of the world’s most unequal regions. In this article, we argue that the eruption of the social protests observed since October 2019 should not have surprised any close observer of Chile; in fact, they are paralleled by other protests in the region, such as in Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia. However, the degree of violence, looting and incendiary attacks on metro stations, supermarkets, pharmacies and other businesses were indeed unexpected, as was the extent of human rights violations resulting from the response of the police and armed forces to the disturbances.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 Global Labour University
Divisions: International Inequalities Institute
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F1201 Latin America (General)
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2020 12:09
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 16:22

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