The past few months have been tumultuous for many around the world. From Kurdistan to Hong Kong, to the U.K. and Yemen, there are many different crises that are dominating the news cycle at the moment. But one thing that I’ve found to be inadequately covered by mainstream media, like CNN, and unknown to many is the ongoing protests occurring all across Latin America. Haiti, Chile and Ecuador all find themselves in political turmoil, wracked by protests and movements in an attempt to change the status quo. It seems like the region has exploded into a fiery chasm of demonstrations and fulminations.
Headlines have recently covered the cancellation of a climate summit in Santiago, but the protests in Chile are the result of tensions that have been ongoing for some time now. The reported cause of the original protests was a rise in metro fare, an increase of 30 Chilean pesos (equivalent to about 4 U.S. cents) in the cost of using public transport. It may seem insignificant to us, but for many, the increase represents the growing economic inequality in Chile. One percent of the country’s population makes 33 percent of the total income, making it one of the most unequal economies in the developed world. Many of the protesters are calling for the drafting of a new constitution, criticizing the current one for prioritizing private entities over the working people of the country. The current constitution was drafted by the government of Augusto Pinochet, a fascist dictator who won the government in a coup in 1973 (which the United States orchestrated, by the way). These protests have overwhelming student involvement, with younger generations being integral to the success of the movement. The initial demonstrations were organized by students, after all. One can take a glance at the situation and notice how it reflects the growing concerns of wealth inequality for the youth here in the U.S.
In Haiti, protests erupted last month over growing concerns about fuel shortages, out-of-control inflation and general exasperation with wealth inequality. The spark to ignite the powder keg, however, can be traced back to the PetroCaribe oil program, which was an economic pact negotiated with Venezuela to increase investment in public services for the country. Billions of dollars of investments in public works projects have been unaccounted for, which raises many questions about where the money was really spent. Protesters are hounding Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s current president, pressuring him to step down amid allegations of corruption and failed leadership. Over half of Haiti’s population lives below the poverty line, landing it as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. These various conditions, corruption and few economic opportunities led to cripplingly low faith in government. In fact, only 21 percent of the electorate turned out for the 2016 presidential election. The sentiments found here are similar to the ones in Chile, caused by economic inequality and a government ill-equipped to handle the consequences of a poorer populace.
Ecuador is another nation that’s been afflicted with protests and demonstrations this past month. Though the protests have ended, we can still look to it as an example of the recurring problem many Latin American nations have been encountering. The protests initially started as a response to the government’s termination of gasoline subsidies, nearly doubling the price of diesel in the country. In addition to that, many criticize President Lenin Moreno’s privatization of public services, especially with the $4.2 billion dollar austerity package he secured with the International Monetary Fund in March. The package was designed to increase economic sustainability and assist the lower class, making the inaction all the more poignant. The stakes quickly evolved to eventually encompass many other grievances the population wanted addressed. Abortion rights and indigenous rights became focal points of the protest as well. The protests eventually came to a close when Moreno decided to meet with indigenous leaders and negotiate an agreement, canceling the austerity package and reviewing the public debt of the nation.
You may be asking yourself why this concerns you. It seems like a world away from the struggles here in the U.S. But the protests are emblematic of a common phenomenon taking hold among the masses on a global scale. In the face of growing inequality and negligent governments unwilling to address it, people are uniting and having their voices heard — whether or not the ruling class wants to hear it. When confronted with a changing political landscape, one must ask themselves where their allegiances lie. Young people, students and the disenfranchised alike are banding together to make a stand. The protests in Latin America are more than just momentary unrest, they are signs of changing tides.
Sam Fogel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.