What changed in Chile a year after the social outbreak and a week after the plebiscite?

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On October 18, 2019, four days after the start of the student demonstrations, a social outbreak shook the South American country. Those protests forced changes, including the possibility of reforming the Constitution, in the referendum next Sunday.

Catalina Santana never imagined that the protest that started a year ago with hundreds of other students against the rise in subway tickets would lead to a plebiscite in which Chileans they will decide if the Constitution bequeathed by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) is replaced.

Catalina, 18, was in her last year of high school when she decided jump the subway turnstiles in repudiation of the increase of 30 pesos (0.04 cents), which did not affect students or the elderly. “I thought we were going to reach a consensus at some point, maybe not as good for us as the plebiscite, but they (politicians) were going to give us something,” the young woman told The Associated Press.

The citizen consultation to decide whether or not to rewrite the Constitution will take place on the 25th of this month. At the polls it will also be decided who would be in charge of drafting a new Magna Carta in case the yes wins.

On October 18, 2019, four days after the start of the student demonstrations, a social outbreak shook the South American country. The violent riots that caused extensive damage to subway stations and supermarkets were followed by massive protests that achieved some economic improvements for the most vulnerable and a broad political agreement that called for a constitutional plebiscite.

“The motto ‘Chile woke up’ used in the demonstrations is the best phrase that represents what happened in the country a year ago, ” said Benjamin Gálvez, a 23-year-old journalist.

Catalina, who is in her first year of law, recalled that “when everything started we did not ask for a new Constitution. That was seen on the way, when we realized that by changing laws we could achieve a response to our demands. ”

The current Constitution was imposed in 1981 by the Pinochet dictatorship in a country dominated by fear and repression. He established a neoliberal economic, political and social model that opened the way to private education and health – for those who could afford them – and a pension system based on individual savings that last year provided pensions of 110,000 pesos ($ 140) the poorest. After the social outbreak, these were readjusted by 50% by the center-right government of Sebastián Piñera.

“The social outbreak called into question a stability that was also part of a country’s slogan, such as the thesis that Chile was the exceptionality of the Latin American region,” Carla Rivera, a history professor at the University of Santiago, told AP. what “we had a cardboard country, with a middle class that was fictitious, that was built and kept afloat from a debt rate that is practically equivalent to 70% of a family’s income. ”

So far, the mechanisms that allow the existence of health and education systems for rich and others for poor they remain intact.

Carlos Gálvez, a 49-year-old administrator, thinks that one year after the protests began, “there have been no basic solutions. They have been putting out small fires, (but) the underlying issue, which is capitalism, is more alive than ever.” .

A year ago, hundreds of thousands of Chileans took to the streets from all over the country to ask for improvements in health, education, pensions and salaries among many others. The protests declined in massive numbers in November and turned into a demonstration every Friday in a central square in Santiago that inevitably ended with vandalism carried out by hooded men.

The arrival of the pandemic in March silenced the protests that were resumed, without massiveness, a couple of weeks ago.

The marches were violently repressed by the police, who used excessive force leaving 3,823 injured. Of them, 460 suffered eye injuries and two were left blind, said Sergio Micco, director of the autonomous National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) on Friday. The abuses were also denounced by international organizations.

The police announced that next Sunday 40,000 of its 60,000 civil servants will take to the Chilean streets to avoid serious disorders.

In social networks there are multiple calls to commemorate the anniversary of the revolt. Catalina will not go because she is afraid of catching the new coronavirus and prefers to take care of herself to be able to vote in the plebiscite on Sunday 25, while Carlos will go as a family to Plaza Italia, the scene of the protests.

“I’m going to go on Sunday with a mask, with alcohol gel, because I have to be there, I have to live this moment and show that the demands are still alive,” he said.

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