Last Thursday March 1st in Berlin, during a cosy and inspiring evening with Humanist writer and
activist Thomás Hirsch with European activists at the “Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte
(House for Democracy and Human Rights) the reality of the case of Chile was exposed. That
widely spread image of a “booming Chile” has been replaced by a “Chile of massive social
In a free flowing, informative and humorous chat Tomás Hirsch dealt with “The Case of Chile –
The failure of the success story; from neo-liberalism’s triumph to the mass protests”..
For many years, the image of Chile as a perfect example of the success of the neo-liberal model
has been exported to the entire world. In terms of social justice, this model is a complete failure,
since only a very small percentage of the country’s inhabitants have benefited from it. Today,
when hundreds of thousands of Chileans are protesting on the streets, the world can finally see
How we got to this point was one of the central themes of the chat with Tomás Hirsch. He mentioned
that after a 17 year dictatorship followed by a formal democracy of 20 years this widespread
image began to crumble 3 years ago. He reminded us that Chile is a very particular case in which
a society was built as a “laboratory experiment” following the prescriptions of Milton Friedman.
Today after 22 years of formal democracy the Chilean Constitution enacted by the dictatorship is
still in place.
He mentioned that in macro economic terms Chile was improving year after year but the gap
between the macro figures and the daily situation of people was growing and the situation was
becoming extremely difficult. The gap widened and at present according to figures from the IMF
and WB about 50% of Chileans earn an average salary similar to that of Angola although the
Chilean economy is 10 times bigger. An extremely poor income distribution that places Chile just
11 spots above the worst country in terms of income distribution.
People feel cheated by a corrupt system. For many years they were told to enter into a tacit
agreement on the promises of a future improvement, a sort of “unspoken social contract”.
The story went like this “let us the wealthy get wealthier but in turn your children will be able to
study since thanks to our wealth we can give them loans and they will improve their situation.
Obviously we will charge them for their education but once with degrees in hand they can easily
pay back”. The number of students multiplied 10 times. When they got their degrees and wanted
to enter the job market they found no work, or miserable salaries or they were succumbing under
the debt. People felt cheated. The first massive student demonstrations happened in 2006 and
the main actors were the High School students. They were told that change was imminent, a
commission was established but in reality everything continued about the same. At a social and
personal level all the hard earned returns were coming but didn’t and the joy that was coming,
We arrived at 2010 with a new Government that receives some breathing room from social
demands due to a devastating earthquake and then 33 miners trapped under ground. All of Chile
takes a break but by 2011 a new phenomena erupts in the social networks of Twitter and FB
but this time around an environmental matter related to the construction of a dam in Patagonia
to connect with a power grid of 3,000 kms and supply electricity to mining multinationals in
Northern Chile. This project’s approval is completely deficient in terms of an environmental
impact assessment. An impressive degree of outrage and activity is generated through the
social networks. A new style appears very different from the traditional political style. It’s non-
violent, horizontal, participatory and very rapidly draws inspiration from what’s happening at a
worldwide level and specially in the Arab World. The High School students of 2006 are now the
university students of 2011 but now with the support of their parents and large sectors of society..
At the same time gigantic financial scandals come to light. A large department store chain has
been cheating one million Chileans. A grouping of Pharmacies has been cheating 3,5 million
Chileans. The credibility of the Government and the neo-liberal model is falling apart within
and outside of Chile. In other words a situation years in the making collapses and the moment
of social mobilizations is underway. To underline the point of the new characteristics of social
mobilizations in the last few days an entire region is mobilized when they felt cheated upon
discovering that they have been paying twice for everything compared to the rest of the country.
This mobilization is historic because it happens in the middle of summer. The support grows in
another two regions and the social protests increase. Students are back to classes around now and
the social mobilizations and the hopes of change can only grow.
But all of this is not enough and it doesn’t guarantee anything unless we carefully and deeply
reflect on the next step, that of structural changes. A reflection about the core matters such as
real/formal Democracy, non-violence/violence, labour/capital, public/private, etc. This reflection
should answer questions on how to provide continuity to this process of change otherwise we’ll
end fragmented in a thousand different interests. We know that the system silences, represses
and digests the changes. The new stages should have a certain level of organization, direction and
open gaze to the future.
Tomás Hirsch ends his chat with a very entertaining image when he says that we look at the horizon
to see the approaching clouds when in reality the clouds form around us instantly when certain
weather conditions take place.
The event was organised byWelt ohne Kriege e.V. [www.worldwithoutwars.org](www.worldwithoutwars.org) and the Park of Study and Reflection Schlamau [www.parkschlamau.org](www.parkschlamau.org)