The Bottleneck of Neoliberalism and the Chilean Revolution

Blog written by: Hugo Parra Munoz, Doctoral Candidate at School of Education, University of Bristol. @HugoPaMu

From Santiago of Chile 12th November 2019

During the last three weeks, Chilean unrests show to the world the social crisis of neoliberalism as a structure of state formation. The international media has broken the communicational censorship imposed by the Chilean government, showing violations of Human Right (see the links The Guardian, The Washington Post). The Chilean political situation has been savage; 5.629 people have been arrested, 2.009 people injured, 197 people have lost one or both eyes. Last weekend a 21-years-old undergraduate student was blinded by rubber bullets in his both eyes. Also, there are 283 cases of police sexual abuse (you can see the violent action of Chilean police here -sensitive content-, and a New York Times report here). I share my experience in the Chilean unrests while I was running my fieldwork.

Photography: Frente Fotografico

I. The cauldron as scenario

The story of neoliberalism is intimately linked to the history of a small Latin American country. Chile was the first state formation which embraced neoliberalism (Harvey, 2005). From the Coup d’ Etat in 1973 (Klein, 2008), carried out by civilians and soldiers with the support of CIA and the Nixon-Kissinger’s administration, neoliberalism has suffered a series of deployments that touch every sphere of living. The instalment of neoliberalism in Chile hit the society as a Tsunami does, setting up a crisis, disciplining, torturing, murdering, and disappearing people opponents to the ideas of the free market.

The fear of that ages operated in subjective levels. The Chilean neoliberalism; a.k.a. The experiment of Chicago; emerged as a macro-economic contra-revolution, privatising the national industry and natural resources, eliminating the notion of a welfare state, installing the logic of a subsidiary State, besides the culture and values-oriented to results. There exist a wide body of research that analyse the structural scopes of neoliberalism in Chile (Bellei, 2018; Falabella, 2015; Morales, 2014; Ruiz, 2012). In this vein, the Redondo and Munoz (2009) research points that “[people have been expropriated from the real spaces which support the associative bond, and keeping illusory and contradictory spaces that ended in subjects’ isolation]” (p. 400). As result of this neoliberal process Chilean population have observed the privatization of water, education and health (three decades before of the current NHS situation) the retirement system with monthly incomes of $128.127 Chilean pesos -clp$- (£125.8), a minimum wage of clp$276.000 (£270.98) in context where the line of poverty arises to clp$430.000 (£422) (Benjamin Saez; Fundacion Sol) for a family of four people, and a minimum monthly waste per family of clp$1.500.000 (£1472.73) (Encuesta de Presupuestos Familiares – INE) including in it education, transportation, health, and credits. This situation generates that 11 million Chileans are highly indebted, in a total population of 19 million (Marco Kremerman de Fundación Sol, 2019). In the other hand, Chile is a rich country in terms of its natural resources, with an annual per capita income of us$15.923,4 similar to Romania with us$12.301. (World Bank, 2018), obtaining a privilege situation in regional terms.

Chart 1. Comparing GDP per capita (Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico). Source: OCDE economic report 2018

The chart presents Chile as an oasis of macro-economic stability (and a population subsumed to the neoliberal doctrine) in the region. However, the extreme inequalities of the neoliberal structure present that only 1% of the Chilean population is the owner of the 26,5% of the total Chilean GDP, while the 10% of the population concentrates the 65% of the GDP (Source CEPAL, 2018).

Chart 2. Inequalities in Chile, comparing OECD and Chile levels of temporary workers and Gini index.
Source: OCDE economic report 2018

II. The Neoliberal private malaises

If you visit Chile, you can easily observe these inequalities. The 55% of workers live with salaries less than clp$400.000 (£398,14), that provokes enormous rates on indebtment; 24% of Chilean maintain credits elevated to six times of their wage. Chilean people observe the plot of several companies, such as drugstore chains (Editorial express), pharmaceutical companies (CPI), supermarkets (AmericaRetail), even toilet rolls companies colluded (Reuters) to set up the prices of their products. In addition to that, while the average of retirement income is £125.8, last year the insurance companies (called Retirement Funds Administrators, AFP in its Spanish acronyms) obtained profits for more than US$551 million. Interestingly, the military dictatorship created a separate retirement system to soldiers, with monthly payments ten times higher than the rest of the population. In 2017, the Chilean Health Ministry declared that 6.320 patients died waiting for attention in the public health system (Radio Bio-Bio). Even, the institutions dedicated to the safety of the country have been involved in cases of corruption. The army, between 2010-2014, stole US$200 million, while the police stole US$36.161.513,60. In all those cases, the Justice system applied risible sentences, such as attending courses of ethic. During 30 years Chilean population tolerate that situation creating a sort of “Private malaise” in the words of the UNDP Project. This discomfort was embodied by the de-legitimation of the democratic institutions and by Chilean secondary students who start a series of mobilisation to evade the payment of the public transportation after the increment of the fare (you can see a video here).

III. Chilean unrest as resistances to neoliberal moulds of living

I am in Chile since the beginning of the unrest, and I have actively participated in the peaceful demonstration, you can see the people dancing, waving flags and singing. Finally, since many decades the people have found new bonds of association, the parks are full of families and children playing, surpassing the neoliberal isolation we are marching together. However, The president Pinera declared the “war against a powerful enemy” (The Guardian), that enemy is the un-armed people demonstrating his discomfort on the neoliberal Chilean state, a population who claim for a new constitution to change the current design of a subsidiary state. It started in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, but rapidly spread out to the rest of the country; in that war, soldiers and police officers have acted with ferocity (The New York Times), shooting, hitting and abusing people. I was threatened by police in a peaceful demonstration at Plaza Nunoa, in the presence of my wife and our both sons (You can see a video of that peaceful demonstration here). The repression have been savage (a video is available here, sensitive content); indeed, the uncle of one participant of my research was kicked by soldiers until became brain dead, there are more than 20 people dead since the beginning of the revolt. But, we are still struggling, after three weeks the Chilean people began a national-range industrial action, and actively occupy the principal squares of each city and towns. They are claiming for equity and social justice, a better distribution of wealth, through a new constitution constructed by the people through a constituent assembly. Neoliberalism, in its logic of marginalisation, procedures of exclusion, and exceptions (Ong, 2006) created this bottleneck. The marginalised are in the streets following the words of Paulo Freire: “the democratisation of the shamelessness which took the country, the disrespectful treatment to the public thing, the impunity; they are rooted so profoundly that the nation has begun to stand on its feet, to demonstrate. The young people are out on the streets; they criticise, they claim transparency, the public spaces are crowded again, there is still a hope”.

Chilean people need solidarity of the international community, in most of the cities exist facebook groups named “asamblea de chilenos en”, (assembly of Chileans in…). Specifically, you could find the Bristol community organised in Asamblea de Chilenxs en UK or in the twitter @ChileansB, and the international assembly Chile Desperto.

Cited works

Bellei, C. (2018). La nueva educación pública. Santiago: CIAE.

Falabella, A. (2015). El mercado escolar en Chile y el surgimiento de la nueva gestión pública: el tejido de la política entre la dictadura neoliberal y los gobiernos de la centroizquierda (1979 a 2009). Educação & Sociedade, 36(132), 699–722.

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History Of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Klein, N. (2008). La doctrina del shock. El auge del capitalismo del desastre. Buenos Aires: Paidos.

Morales, M. (2014). New Public Management in Chile: Origins and Effects. Revista de Ciencia Politica, 34(2), 427–438.

Ong, A. (2006). Neoliberalism as exception, mutation in citizenship and sovereignity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Redondo, J., & Muñoz, L. (2009). Juventud y enseñanza Media en Chile del Bicentenario antecedentes de la revolución pingüina. Santiago: Salesianos.

Ruiz, C. (2012). La Republica, el Estado y el mercado en educación. Revista de Filosofía, 68, 11–28.


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