Last November, I watched aghast as Chile erupted in protests. This beautiful country that I had come to love so much suddenly became unrecognizable to me (and to many of my friends who still lived there).
Many Chileans I know were shocked. So many prided themselves on not being like the rest of Latin America, not succumbing to protests or violence. I was glued to the computer every day, watching for the latest news as that was exactly what was happening. But the international news forums simply couldn’t keep up. I often relied more on my friends for photos and videos for the latest.
The reasons for the protest have been covered elsewhere, and certainly more intelligently and comprehensively than I can do here. Suffice it to say, there is a significant amount of income inequality in Chile. While the wealthy do well, the poor struggle just to get by. For example, pensions were one focus of the protestors. Many retirees receive little. Estimates range from as little as $138 per month, to perhaps $600 per month. While the cost of living in Chile may be less expensive than the US, it’s not that less expensive. While I lived there, I paid about $350 per month for the room that I rented. I did not live in my own apartment. I did not travel lavishly. I did not go out every night. I lived fairly frugally, and yet my expenses often reached or exceeded $600 per month.
It broke my heart to see the protests and destruction in Chile last November. Of course, many say looters took advantage for their own benefit. Banks, grocery stores and pharmacies were the hardest hit. Many small businesses had signs out saying, “Please don’t loot us, we are a family business.” Metro stations were hit hard in the capital of Santiago. Toll stations on the country’s highways were also hit. When I returned to Chile in February, I was anxious to see for myself the results of the protests.
The banks, grocery stores and pharmacies are all boarded up. Where there were walls of windows, there are now metal grates. Graffiti is everywhere – angry with the police, the government. Many streetlights and pedestrian crossing signs were destroyed. While some are being fixed (I was happy to see the gentleman below, though he was the only one I saw during my stay), most have not. You can see in the pictures that some people have taken it upon themselves to act as human streetlights and crossing guards, with signs that say, “Go” and “Stop”. They have a box or jar out, accepting tips as the wage for their services. Returning to “normal” is obviously taking some time.
The country is set to vote on a new constitution in April. Many fear a renewal of protests, especially as people return from summer holidays (most of Chile is on holiday during February).
Intermittent incidences continue to occur. There were protests and demonstrations surrounding the annual music festival in Viña. In the pictures below, you can see the effects on transport services. The police shut the bus station in Viña, starting at 6 PM. Of course, none of the passengers knew this. They arrived (like my friend) confused and uncertain as to if and how they would depart the city that evening. Passengers questioned each other, and bus company representatives (that they could find), about where to find their bus. Some stood in line at closed desks, apparently for no reason other than the hope that someone might appear and tell them their ticket was still valid.
Some company representatives gathered groups of passengers, escorted them to their bus several blocks away. Buses were still running, though the execution seemed ad hoc. The companies had buses staged on surrounding blocks, and were directing passengers individually. There seemed no organization to the system, no way of informing passengers where to go other than word of mouth. People who missed their first bus (like my friend), stood in line for the next bus, hoping to get home that evening. Fortunately, he did.
In writing this post, I have tried to offer only what I saw. Others have written extensively on recent events in Chile. This is the reason I inserted so many links to other stories.
Life continues in Chile, as it must. Protests or no, people continue living. I saw the results of the protests. I also saw how people adapt and overcome, how they continue to live despite uncertainty and disruption. I will be watching over the next few weeks and months, to see how events in Chile unfold. I’ll definitely be back in November – this time traveling further south. Chile is still a place that I love, and will always have a place in my heart. A few protests will not keep me away. Life continues, as it must.