Protests resume in Chile, demonstrations hamper economic growth

SANTIAGO, Chile: Thousands of Chileans returned to the streets on Monday to demand better social services, some clashing with the police, as protesters demanded an end to economic inequality even when the government announced that weeks of demonstrations are damaging economic growth from the country.

The last protest came after a brief rest in the wave of demonstrations of a week in which 20 people died in clashes amid looting and arson that forced the cancellation of two important international summits in what was considered one of the richest countries in Latin America.

Most Chileans who started last week had a long holiday weekend and Monday's protest was relatively small compared to previous demonstrations. But the thousands who attended showed that the protest movement did not appear to be unstable.

Most protesters who supported the national movement without leaders marched peacefully, but some groups threw stones and incendiary bombs at riot police officers, who responded with tear gas fires and explosions to try to disperse the crowds. The government said at least six policemen were injured, including two who were attacked and set on fire with Molotov cocktails.

The demonstrations began last month after the government announced an increase in subway rates and became a national movement without leaders with wider demands on education, health services and economic inequality. The subway system has said it has suffered damages of almost $ 400 million, while it is estimated that companies in Chile have lost more than $ 1.4 billion in damage from arson, looting and lost sales.

Before the protesters met, Finance Minister Ignacio Briones warned that the negative economic impacts of the protests in the country that is the main copper producer on the planet forced officials to reduce their prediction of economic growth for 2019 between 2% and 2.2% from 2.6%.

His announcement was received with disdain by protesters who said they had not shared Chile's economic prosperity.

Marcos Díaz, a 51-year-old teacher protesting in the capital of Santiago, said large corporations have been the main beneficiaries.

Through all these years of democracy, we have been living with a minimum wage that puts 60 percent of workers below the poverty line, he said. Growth is a fallacy invented by this model to hide the inequality of this country.

Accountant Veronica Gonzalez said that although she believes that people are losing money because of the protests, they will recover it later and that this fight has to continue anyway.

Protesters have criticized what they call a neoliberal economic model that on the surface makes Chile look like a Latin American economic success story: masking a widely criticized pension system and hybrid public and private education and health systems that provide better benefits to the rich , who can pay more.

Many protesters are demanding a new constitution to replace the 1980 letter written under Gen. Augusto Pinochet The military dictatorship of 1973-1990. It allows many social services and natural resources, including water, to be totally or partially deprived.

From afar, Chile has been seen as a regional success story under democratically elected presidents left and right. A free market consensus has boosted growth, poverty and has given Chile the highest score in Latin America in the United Nations, a combination of life expectancy, education and national income per capita.

And in 2010, Chile became the second Latino member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, after Mexico.

But a 2017 UN report found that the richest 1% of Chile's population earns 33 percent of the nation's wealth. That helps make Chile the most unequal country in the OECD, a little worse than Mexico.

President Sebastián Piñera is a billionaire and one of the richest men in the country. Piñera has replaced the heads of several ministries with generally younger officials seen as more centrist and accessible and introduced a series of economic reforms, including increases in the minimum wage and lower state pensions. But he has struggled to contain the protests and faces calls to resign.

The challenge for the movement is also to maintain pressure on Piñera. As the government and the opposition are now negotiating reforms and Congress is advancing some of those reforms, there is a great chance that the movement will be divided into more radical and moderate wings, said Patricio Navia, a political scientist at the University of New York.

The radical wing wants Piñera to quit and the more moderate groups want to take advantage and pass some reforms that will have a positive impact on people's lives, especially the increase in pensions and the minimum wage, he said.