Chilean Opposition Demands Referendum To Solve Crisis

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Above Photo: From Resumen-english.org

Three opposition parties —Radical, Democracy, and Socialist— demanded that the Sebastian Piñera Administration call for a constituent referendum as a starting point to find a solution to the political and social crisis that hit the country two weeks ago and showing no signs of coming to an end.

Entering a third week, demonstrations continue strong and have resulted so far in 23 deaths; a figure reported by the Chilean Attorney General, while another 1,574 injured are in hospitals. Of those 473 were shot by police pellets and over 157 suffering irreparable eye injuries. Over 4,326 people are under arrest and at least 132 of them claim they were tortured and sexual violated, according to information released by the National Human Rights Institute.

Truck driver associations have announced that they are going to strengthen their protest this week on urban roads and highways to demand a decrease on toll charges that are operated by private companies.

Educational authorities are proposing to extend the school year in high schools and colleges, which usually go from March to December, to January or even until March 2020, because they have been closed since the protests began.

Hundreds of open council meetings have been formed and held by citizens in dozens of communes or districts in the different cities of the country, regardless if they are small, medium or large. High turnout of neighbors are attending these open meetings to express their opinion about the crisis and presenting possible solutions to end the crisis.

The day to day life Chile since October 31is irregular at best. Public transportation, buses and subway system are hardly working with the most regular activity being unceasing demonstrations against the Pinera government.

Perhaps the best summary of the events was made by Deputy Jaime Mulet, from the small party Green Social Regionalist Federation, who appealed for elections for president and legislators, affirming that first they should all resign.

“We have submitted a proposal for the resignation of all deputies and senators and to hold general elections for a new President of the Republic as well as legislators,” Mulet told a TV station.

Evidently in despair, the Government is proposing ideas such as eliminating the debts of college students, a policy to fund higher education in force since the middle of the nineties. Banks fund the career of hundreds of thousands of university students through Government funded loans with a real interest rate of six percent… a sweet deal for them.  Today, around 870,000 students owe an equivalent $ 7.5 billion; 40 percent of the loans are in default; and more than half of them were already bought back from the banks by the Government.

The Government, in turn, has reversed a tax draft bill aimed at allegedly fostering investments but what they actually did was decrease taxes for multi-millionaires by about $800 million. Abandoning this initiative —heavily defended during the last two years and described as key to reactivate the country’s economy— is another evidence of how events are having an impact on the Government and how it is adapting its agenda to the tumultuous reality that is out of its control.

Starting Point

A constitutional referendum is part of the demands being put forward, as well as a 50 percent rise in basic pensions (the Government proposed 20 percent) to increase them to 165,000 pesos (about $ 230); price fixing for medicines; a minimum wage increase of 350,000 pesos ($490); decreasing the wages of legislators; free public transportation for the elderly; and a reform to create taxes for the assets of the wealthy.

“The Government’s social agenda is not enough. We have to go to what’s essential and we have to start with the first counter-proposal, which is a key for the rest and that is a referendum for a new constitution because the old one does not allow citizens to express themselves democratically. The Government’s proposal so far have not been enough to solve the demands of the citizens’ mass protests,” said the president of the Party for Democracy, Heraldo Muñoz.

Carlos Maldonado, president of the Radical Party, said “the Government has not opened itself to political changes yet. They have raised a tentative and insufficient agenda. It’s weak and miserable. It seems like they have not been able to comprehend what citizens are demanding and how strong the unrest is. Or perhaps they are just trying to buy time for things to settle down.