Chile se moviliza: protests and inequality in post-dictatorship chile

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© 2014

Shruti Jaishankar

A thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for completion

Of the Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies
Croft Institute for International Studies
Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College
The University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi

May 2014



Advisor: Dr. Susan Allen


Reader: Dr. William Schenck


Reader: Dr. Gregory Love

© 2014

Shruti Jaishankar



(Under the Direction of Dr. Susan Allen)
On March 11, 1990, Augusto Pinochet, one of Latin America’s most infamous dictators, left office after Chileans ordered him to step down in a nationwide plebiscite. Since Pinochet harshly punished any and all dissenters, protests re-emerged in Chile as a popular form of political action. In this thesis, I examine the relationship between economic and political inequality and the frequency of protests and peaceful demonstrations in the country. I examine the theory behind why people protest, and later examine the history of individual protest movements (such as the Chilean Education Movement). Lastly, I run a regression to evaluate the relationship between GINI coefficient (a popular measure of income inequality) and the frequency of peaceful demonstrations since the end of the dictatorship. Though the regression does not indicate that there is a significant relationship between the two, survey data suggests that Chileans view protest as a legitimate and effective form of political action, and that they have little faith in the government and party system to represent their interests. Thus, I posit that Chileans protest because existing social and political infrastructures are not functioning as they should.


LIST OF TABLES AND GRAPHS………………………………………………v
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW……….…………………………………5
CHAPTER 2: THEORY…………………………………………………………19
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION…………………………………………………..46
LIST OF REFERENCES…………………………………………………….…..49


Graph 1 Primary School Enrollment in Chile (2004-2011)………………………35

Graph 2 Secondary School Enrollment in Chile (2004-2011)……………………36

Graph 3 Tertiary School Enrollment in Chile (2004-2011)………………………37

Graph 4 Chile’s GINI Coefficient (1994-2011)……………..…………………….41

Figure 1 Results and Coefficients of Regression 1: GINI Coefficient x anti-government demonstrations………...........................………………...43-44

Figure 2 Results and Coefficients of Regression 2: Access to education x anti-government demonstrations……………………………........…………………….......44

Latin America has suffered from debt crises, military dictatorships, natural disasters, and now a global recession. Countries such as Ecuador and Peru are among the hardest hit, but many reports argue that Chile has weathered its troubles fairly well. It has a stable GDP, a democratic government, and enjoys free trade with its neighbors. On the surface, Chile appears to be one of the more economically successful countries in the region, along with its neighbors Argentina and Uruguay.

Within the country, however, problems are abundant. Though Pinochet’s dictatorship fell over 20 years ago, Chilean citizens still remember and are still scarred from the violence and fear that pervaded the 17 years while he was in power. The 17 years of trauma left a profound mark on Chileans, and they spent many years after the dictatorship undergoing a process of “political learning,” where they “modify their political beliefs and tactics as a result of severe crises, frustrations, and dramatic changes in environment” (Bermeo 274). The dictatorship instilled in Chile a “normative legacy that favored the creation of a democracy” because the elites and masses alike no longer wanted to live under the shadow of authoritarianism. However, though Chile has come a long way since its Pinochet days, it still suffers from many social and political problems.

Vestigial memories of the dictatorship are far from the only problem Chile faces, however. Many Chileans believe that the country’s worst problem is its economic, social, and political inequality. Chile has a Gini Coefficient (a number between 0 and 1 that measures inequality, 0 being perfectly equal and 1 being perfectly unequal) that measures over 0.5, showing that income inequality is considerable. In context, this statistic caused Business Insider magazine to rank Chile as one of its 39 most unequal countries in the world (Lincoln). Chile is more unequal than the United States and many nearby countries such as Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Chile ranked as the 16th most unequal country in the world in 2011, comparable to countries Papua New Guinea and Zambia (Lincoln).

Chile’s inequality comes from a variety of factors. First, during the mid-twentieth century, Chile wavered between an economic model that favored state control of assets and a favorable balance of trade, to a privatized liberal model that relied on foreign investment. This inconsistency along with rapid liberalization was problematic, because though “liberalization programs do not in principle rule out redistributing assets for the sake of equalization… their spirit certainly goes against it” (Sheahan 9). This means that Chile’s sudden switch from state control and a social safety net to Liberal policies may have caused some of the inequality still present today. Throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s, inequality increased in terms of consumption, income, and distribution of capital (Sheahan 15).

Chile’s political system is problematic as well, as its constitution has been largely untouched since Pinochet rewrote it in 1982. Its electoral laws in particular were written to keep Pinochet’s opponents out of power, and thus some of the rules seem arbitrary and unfairly slanted in the modern age. Because Chileans have little faith in their political system, voter confidence is low. Instead, protests and demonstrations have become a popular vehicle to voice dissent in Chile.

With this thesis, I seek to understand the relationship between inequality and protests in Chile during the post-dictatorship period. I want to examine protests on a macro level. Instead of looking at individual rallies or marches, I will identify the root causes for protest movements to see what, if any, relationship they have with problems rooted in inequality such as repression and disparity of wealth. Though I do not believe that the pervasive inequality has caused all of the protests in Chile over its considerably tumultuous past, I do believe that since the end of the dictatorship, many of the protest movements in Chile have roots in the country’s struggles with inequality. Though it is impossible to predict with any certainty the frequency of all protests in any given year, I want to examine the relationship between inequality and protests in different areas of Chile to see if high inequality led to a higher rate of protests.

Chile is host to a variety of protest movements. The education protests are one such wave of protests, but they are far from the only ones. Protestors have been calling for greater minority rights and more competent government for years. Before I make any sort of conclusions about current-day protests in Chile, I explore the history and causes of protests since the dictatorship because individual protests movements are so varied. I will also include a section on theory to examine more generally why people protest. After contextualizing both the level and types of inequality in Chile and the recent history of protest, I will turn to a more quantitative form of analysis.

In the quantitative section, I will examine data from the World Bank, and the UN Millennium Development Goal committee to examine the levels of inequality in the country. I will also use the World Bank and United Nations data to see how much progress Chile has made in overcoming some of its shortcomings in the education sector since the beginning of the millennium. Lastly, I will run a regression to see if there is a relationship between access to education, and frequency of protests.

Inequality is certainly not a unique problem; it is persistent in both developed and developing societies. Why then, does it lead to protests, riots, and domestic conflict in some nations like Chile, while in other nations it does not? The answer is far from simple and it is a combination of political, economic, and cultural factors. In this thesis, I will attempt to show that protest culture in Chile is symptomatic of the underlying inequality in the country.


All inequality in Chile is not the same, nor does it manifest at the same rate in all sectors. Scholars throughout the world attempt to express “inequality” in a country with the use of one number, the GINI coefficient, but the GINI often only scratches the surface of the many divisions in any given country as it is only a statistic. Though disparity of wealth is a strong indicator of underlying political and economic problems in the country, it often does not go far enough in explaining social or cultural partitions that may prevent a country from progressing.

In this section, I will look at three aspects of inequality. First, I look at inequality in purely economic terms and address Chile’s problems with income inequality and concentration of capital. Then, I look at Chile’s economic heritage to better understand the effect that neoliberal reforms had during the late 20th century. I will also attempt to gauge current Chilean feeling toward these reforms to better understand the economic concerns of modern day protestors.

Next, I will address political inequality. This is harder to quantify, but I can measure it through the World Values Survey and examination of Chile’s constitution and electoral laws. As a new democracy, Chile has overcome the hurdle of transitioning from an authoritarian government to a transparent and democratic one, but still has a long way to go in terms of institutions. I argue that the political infrastructure in the country perpetuates inequality and decreases overall faith in the system, and that this attitude leads to an increase in protest as Chilean citizens search for a better outlet to air their grievances. This section is particularly important because it helps link inequality and protest culture specifically in Chile.

The last form of inequality I will discuss is social inequality and the effect it has on education. The latest wave of protests in Chile has organized around a common theme: great access to secondary education. This by no means is a new topic of protest, but instead demonstrates the idea that Chileans see their society as unfairly rigged to benefit the wealthy. In this section, I will discuss the way Chile’s education system is designed and why many Chileans dislike it. I hope to tie together Chile’s struggles with education, social mobility, and minority rights in this section.
Economic Inequality

The easiest and most visible marker of economic inequality in most countries is income inequality and wealth disparity. By looking at fluctuations in Chile’s GINI coefficient and by examining the concentration of land and wealth among Chilean citizens, we can glean an accurate picture of the economic health of the Chilean working class. In the early 2000s, Chile’s GINI coefficient climbed as high as 0.57. The income of the richest 10% of Chilean citizens was greater than the total income of the bottom 80% of Chilean households (Lopez and Miller 2679). The income inequality is a result of the failed economic policies of the Chilean government earlier in the century. The mixed success and eventual cessation of the Import Substitute Industrialization model and the rapid privatization of many industries during the Pinochet administration damaged the economy in the long run and marginalized many average Chilean citizens.

The Import Substitution Industrialization economy policy was a way to declare economic independence from the countries of the global north. Though many Latin American countries were not directly involved in the two World Wars, they still suffered as a result of the weak global market and worldwide inflation that it caused. In the period after the wars, many South American economies decided it was better to be self-sufficient and produce everything their citizens needed within the country. Import substitution focused on domestic production of many goods, state subsidization of large industries, and protectionist trade policies. Chileans focused on mining copper and nitrate and refrained from importing any good they could produce themselves. As a result, in the period after the war, the level of exports in Asian countries grew on average about 10% a year, while exports fell in Latin American countries by 1% (Alcántara, Paramio, Freidenberg, and Déniz 12). This considerably hurt GDPs throughout the region, but the situation became dire as a result of “insufficient internal savings” and a high rate of protectionism (12). The oil shocks were the last straw; industrialization was already difficult to maintain in Latin America, but a “brutal elevation of energy costs” was too much. Countries all over the region experienced “a reduction of demand and as a result, a decrease in wages and economic stagnation” (10). Import substitution also kept the Chilean economy from diversifying, because the economy had flourished by extracting raw materials and developing them within the country. Its dependence on the extraction of resources is still hurting them today, because the Chilean economy’s fate is still partially tied to the fortune of one or two industries. Chile remains “highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the world demand and price of [raw materials],” and is thus forced to maintain production at any cost. This cost usually falls heavily on the shoulders of the indigenous and working class population, who are paid a pittance for their work as costs of living are rising.

After Import Substitution, Chile saw the rapid adoption of neoliberal policies, overseen by the “Chicago boys,” Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago. Chile’s authoritarian government felt that the only way to recover from the follies of the ISI model was to adopt capitalism as fast as possible and to integrate it into as many sectors as possible. Pinochet and the Chicago boys wished to open Chile to foreign trade, but participating in the international market system also meant opening each country to foreign investment, which initially was “concentrated in trade, shipping, railways, public utilities, and government loans” (Keen 202). Once the previously state-controlled industries were opened to investment, foreign multi-national corporations quickly bought the profitable industries (such as copper and nitrate) and gradually took control of most of the profitable enterprises in the country. This economic control eventually led significant political influence, which only made inequality worse. The richest families in Chile almost completely controlled the financial sector, and foreign interests controlled most of the capital in the country. It was extremely difficult for the average citizen to engage in entrepreneurial activities and the working class had little opportunity for social mobility. The economic prospects of the working class have not improved much since the Pinochet dictatorship; “the successive democratic regimes… have been unable and/or unwilling to reduce inequality” and to level the playing field between Chile’s superrich and the working class (Lopez and Miller 2769).

Chileans have protested their economic situations for years now, but due to the repressive and violent nature of the Pinochet regime, it was difficult to claim that the sole reason people were protesting during the 80s was due to economic inequality. More likely, economic inequality was an underlying cause for discontent, but it is more likely that Chileans took to the streets to express their disapproval of the Pinochet regime’s treatment of dissidents. However, since the fall of the regime and over the past ten or so years, it is easier to make the argument that Chileans are protesting the apparent inequality in their society. For example, a journalist interviewed one young protestor in Santiago in 2006 and asked him why he was vandalizing private property. His response was, “aquí hay dos Chiles, y yo odio al otro” or “here there are two Chiles, and I hate the other.” The young man was expressing that he believes that there are “two Chiles,” the Chile of the richest 10%, and the relatively working-class remainder. The rich live comfortably in a manner that rivals the rich of any developed country, but the working class suffers and openly resents the rich, a sentiment the youth clearly expressed when he claimed “yo odio al otro,” or “I hate the other [Chile]” (Lopez and Miller 2769).
Political Inequality

Economic inequality is a far-reaching and obvious cause of dissent in Chile, but it is not any more important than the political problems that still plague the country. Before the Pinochet regime, Chile suffered from instability and extreme factionalism while Salvador Allende was president. After Allende was ousted in a violent, US-funded coup, Pinochet took power and rewrote the country’s constitution in 1982. The constitution of 1982 was designed to perpetuate and strengthen Pinochet’s power while eliminating opportunities for his opposition. The new constitution decreed, “that nine non-elected senators, four of them former military and police commanders, would sit alongside 26 (now 38) elected ones; it gave General Pinochet a Senate seat for life; and it deprived elected presidents of their right to dismiss military commanders-in-chief or the chief of police” (Untying the Knot – The Economist). Reforms since have done away with the “senators for life,” but some of the more perplexing aspects of the constitution, such as the binomial electoral system, still endure.

The binomial system has been a consistent source of strife since its introduction in 1982. While the system seems like a small facet of the larger political system, electoral laws can profoundly affect party dynamics and influence the way voters feel about the political system. For example, the design of an electoral system can push a party system into favoring many small parties or do the opposite and encourage two or three large parties. A flawed electoral system can also make voters feel as if their vote does not matter, and lead to a decrease in political participation, or make voters feel as if they do not have a direct role in the decision making process of a given country. Since “the relevance of a party system lies… in how it reflects and in turn helps to mitigate or aggravate [the] tension” between the accumulation of capital and the distribution of wealth, a flawed electoral system can in turn make voters feel like they are not receiving enough benefits from their government (Barrett 2). This is exactly the case in Chile, where “each constituency elects two members to each house. To get both seats, a party or coalition must get double the vote of the runner-up. The centre-left coalition in power since 1990 has never won enough seats to change the constitution” (Untying the Knot). In short, a party only wins both seats if they receive double the vote of the opposition party. Chile’s binomial system leads to disproportionate representation throughout the country.

Due to this imbalance, parties have been forced to band together for support and success and many Chileans have little to no faith in the political process at all. In the fifth round of the World Values Survey, one thousand respondents in Chile were polled in 2006 and asked how much confidence they had in their political parties. The majority of Chilean surveyed said that they either have “not very much” confidence in political parties or “none at all.” Only about 20% of respondents had “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of confidence in political parties (World Values Survey, Fourth Wave). In the most recent round of the survey, faith in parties stayed mostly the same. Of roughly a thousand respondents surveyed, the vast majority stated they had “not very much” faith in political parties, and many claimed that they had no faith at all (World Values Survey, Sixth Wave). Respondents had a similar attitude about the government: in 2006 (the fourth wave of the study), the second largest percentage of respondents had “not very much” faith in the Chilean government. By the sixth wave of the survey, taken between 2010 and 2014, the percentage stayed almost exactly the same. The data shows that not only do Chileans not have faith in their political parties to fulfill their basic functions, but they do not trust the parties after they have been elected into government either.

This lack of faith in political parties is alarming and significant when we evaluate the frequency of protests in the country. Political parties are important because they are the most efficient way to link the government with the citizens of a country. Richard Katz defines political parties as “an autonomous group of citizens having the purpose of making nominations and contesting elections in the hope of gaining control over governmental power through the capture of public offices and the organization of the government” (Katz 2006, 220). If the citizens of a country do not have faith in the country’s party system, they are less likely to try and engage in it and are more likely to seek other avenues to make their voices heard. According to Hans Daalder, a party system, or more than one party, is necessary because it establishes a “legitimate opposition” while also facilitating “the process of inclusion of more and more groups in the political system” (Daalder 2001, 41). In Chile’s case, the citizens don’t trust the parties to serve as “legitimate opposition” to each other or the government, so they must oppose the government in other ways such as protests.
Social Inequality: Education and current day protests

While political inequality and economic issues are obvious sources of domestic conflict in Chile, social inequality is also an important root of the problem. The Chilean struggle for equal access to education, minority rights, and other basic social welfares existed during the Pinochet regime but endured into the newly democratized country. Because Pinochet enacted many Liberal reforms that chipped away the country’s social safety net, many Chileans wished for a return to more socialist policies. This push gradually gained momentum through the 90s and into the 2000s, and has found its most recent incarnation in the Chilean Education Movement.

The push for equal access to quality education was a recurring theme in Chile after Pinochet did away with free secondary education, but the movement began to pick up steam again in 2011. At that time, a group of Chilean students banded together to continue to protest the high tuition costs and lack of access to higher education in Chile. Before the Pinochet era, public education was free, or at the very least, state-subsidized. When Pinochet rose to power, the education sector was partially privatized along with several other industries. Though many countries throughout the world, the United States included, still have privatized education systems, many Chileans resent the rising cost of secondary education because it was free at one point in Chilean history.

Nevertheless, Chile currently enjoys greater access to primary education than the vast majority of countries in the world. Statistics The World Bank reports that over 100% of children enjoy access to primary schooling. This inflated statistic includes children that have been held back or are traditionally too old to attend primary school. Despite the flaw in the statistic, this number still shows that the vast majority of Chilean children have access to and attend primary school. Over the past 10 years, Chile has provided the same level of access to primary school as most high-income OECD countries though it is considered a mid-income OECD country itself. In some years, Chile has outperformed many other OECD countries in providing primary education to children (World Bank Database). On a global standpoint, Chile appears to be doing very well in its education sector, but Chilean citizens remain unsatisfied because education becomes more difficult to attain the further a student progresses in school.

Objectively, Chile doesn’t suffer from the same level of educational deprivation as many developing countries, but the country does have real problems with educational stratification. Many scholars argue that there is “persistent inequality” in Chile arising from the market reforms of the Pinochet area (Torche 316). Access to education remains more or less equal during primary school, but “there is a small but significant increase in inequality in the transition to secondary education” (Torche 316). This means that despite the fact that education franchises as a whole have expanded in Chile and countries like Chile (meaning that more universities and trade schools are available), “educational attainment has remained constant over the decades” (Torche 316). The prevailing factor that influences educational attainment is still social background, meaning that lower-income students or first-generation college students are still those that are least likely to matriculate.

Lack of access to secondary education continues to make the social mobility necessary for equality difficult. Inequality, defined as “the distribution of resources at any point in time” is high in Chile as previously discussed because the country’s resources are in the hands of a few (Torche 424). Social mobility, defined in this context as upward movement through the social strata, is a tenet of most capitalist societies. However, mobility is difficult in societies where education is one of the only vehicles available for upward mobility (i. e., a transition from the working to the middle class). Education “increases the chances that someone with a particular social origin will attain a more rather than less advantageous [social] destination” and helps people overcome burdens placed on them due to their economic backgrounds and thus helps them break the cycle of poverty (Torche 425). High inequality causes “greater distance in terms of human, financial, cultural, and social resources across different origins” (425), but education helps level that distance by giving lower class citizens the opportunity to participate in the national discourse. However, much of the inequality in Chile is concentrated in the education sector, mobility is not impossible, but difficult for Chilean citizens. The lack of mobility and lack of access to education go hand in hand to make life difficult for the Chilean working class. Inequality becomes most problematic when avenues to overcome it (like education and a flourishing job market) are readily available. However, in Chile’s case, education is difficult to attain and so the lower class cannot always rise above their situation.

Because Chile has made the transition from an agrarian country to one that has a more diversified economy, its problems can no longer be fixed by land or market reform. When inequality was high in Chile during the 1960s and 1970s, the government instituted comprehensive land reform, where traditional haciendas were broken into smaller plots of land for individual proprietors. This reform decreased the “extreme land concentration” in the country, taking the land out of the hands of a few wealthy landowners and placing it back into the hands of individual Chileans. This did wonders for Chilean inequality in the short term, when Chile still relied heavily upon the land as a source of income. Market reform in the 80s again reduced inequality by increasing the number of business owners in the country thus allowing them a larger share of the capital available in the country. This still was not a complete success, however, since many Chilean business owners engage in “survival activities” and not the active accumulation of capital. Thus, the vast majority of capital in the country is still concentrated in the hands of the few, and no further market reforms can reduce this disparity (Torche 431). The answer, then, may lie in mobility through education. Experts have identified that the reallocation of resources isn’t the answer, but the creation of a larger volume of more specialized jobs may revitalize the country. However, this is only possible if every Chilean has an equal chance at a solid education.

Since 2011, the movement for free education has expanded at an exponential rate. Marches and protests are organized approximately once a week, and often the students engage in “paros” or “tomas,” which are extreme forms of protest that range from a refusal to attend class to the seizure of university buildings. In my own experience, my university, the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaiso, was in paro by my second month there. Students refused to attend classes, choosing instead to keep up with their schoolwork on their own time and to protest high tuition costs. Within another month, many students had voted to progress to a toma, in which they lock down a university building and live in it for months at a time, refusing admittance to any university officials. Though my school did not participate in a toma that extreme, many of the buildings remained locked for days and I had to show my passport to the guards stationed at the doors to prove that I wasn’t on the University staff and was required to continue attending classes. The New York Times described the Education Movement in its early days as a “Chilean Winter” – students engaged in hunger strikes, mass mobilizations, and were even subject to tear gas and water cannons (Barrionuevo)

The protest movement emerged from a feeling of marginalization, both within the university and in the education system as a whole. The students recognize that change is only possible with “the conscious effort of specific interest groups to adapt the University,” but these conscious efforts often fall flat (Torres and Schugurensky 434). One leaders of the education movement explained that he and his fellow protestors “no ve[mos] un canal politico” because “la constitución y el sistema binomial lo prohiben,” or “we don’t see a political channel because the constitution and the binomial system prohibit it.” This means that Giorgio Jackson, the aforementioned student leader, doesn’t see a political channel that the protestors can use to demand change because the constitution and the binomial system prohibit it (Chile se Moviliza).

This inability to utilize the political system clearly shows that the political and economic inequality is beginning to divide society. The students see themselves as a completely different sector of society than those in power, and even consider themselves marginalized to the extent that the system will not work for them. The students consider themselves marginalized even from the press; one student interviewed by al-Jazeera boldly claims “in Chile the media lies” (Fault Lines: Chile Rising). The same student expresses his concern over the unfair coverage when he states, “they are hitting my friends… the news doesn’t show it” (Fault Lines: Chile Rising). Chilean student protestors have attracted a large following in the two years they have been protesting, but the growth in the movement is largely due to word-of-mouth and foreign press.

The Chilean education protests are symptomatic of larger problems in Chilean society. The political and economic inequity affects all sectors of Chilean society, not just industry and governance. Chilean citizens do not feel as if they live in a society that affords them social mobility and instead feel as if there are “two Chiles” – one of the rich, and one for the rest. Instead of these two groups coming to a compromise, the divide between the groups is widening and “the perceived futility of any attempt to negotiate has spread feelings of disillusion” throughout the movement and the country (Guzman-Concha 410).

Protest culture in Chile has been alive and strong for decades now and is certainly not a recent phenomenon. However, the protests within the past two decades seem to be motivated by a different theme than those before and during the Pinochet administration. Under the dictatorship, protests were directly related to the repression and violence of the regime. Now that the regime has fallen, protests seem to reflect instead the underlying problems in Chilean society, most of which have roots in the political and economic inequality that arose from an inconsistent political system and many ill-advised reforms. Inequality has created a society in Chile that is sharply divided by class, but the existing political infrastructure does not give average Chileans an efficient means by which to level the playing field.

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