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Welcome to Chile: One of Latin America's Most Unequal Countries

The current Constitution illustrates a time when Pinochet along with President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger forced upon Chile economic policies that would consolidate an export-driven economy owned by foreign multi-nationals.

Aerial view as demonstrators march during a national strike and general demonstration called by different workers unions on November 12, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. On Sunday, Government announced it has agreed to start the process to write a new Constitution for the country, which is one of the most repeated demands by the demonstrators since October 18. (Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

Aerial view as demonstrators march during a national strike and general demonstration called by different workers unions on November 12, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. On Sunday, Government announced it has agreed to start the process to write a new Constitution for the country, which is one of the most repeated demands by the demonstrators since October 18. (Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)

Following 9-11 many editorial cartoonists, myself included, tried to make sense of the tragic events. My work criticized US foreign policy and the ensuing, heavy-handed military interventionism that followed. As a result, I was denied boarding a domestic Air Canada flight in 2004. I also began to receive extra screening on a routine basis by airlines in many countries. One of these screenings happened on a trip to Chile with my family. Upon landing in Santiago, at passport control, we handed over our travel documents. An immigration officer flipped-through, scanning our passports—and nosily stamped, seemingly random pages. She stopped at mine and asked me why we were visiting Chile. I told her we were making a routine trip to visit my wife’s family and that she could double-check my passport to verify. She stared at me and asked me to wait. Another immigration officer showed up and started flipping through my passport. There was the crackle of walkie-talkies and two uniformed men showed up. They identified themselves in Spanish as Interpol officers and grabbed my passport, cell phone and ordered me to follow them. My three-year-old son asked my wife, "where is Baba being taken?" I was taken to the back of the terminal to a secure zone, body searched and then asked to wait—locked in a tiny 6ft-by-6ft cubicle. After about 90-minutes, I was taken to larger room. A man dressed in crisp military attire, sitting at a desk, was holding my passport and cell phone. He asked me in stilted but flawless English why I was visiting Chile. He deliberated over my responses before handing me my passport. He made a point of gripping my passport firmly, not immediately releasing it and saying, “Welcome to Chile.”

The belief that free markets lead to prosperity, and prosperity will trickle down to the masses has been debunked worldwide.

The airport officials I interacted with exemplify the racial and cultural divide that exists in Chile. Opportunities are based on class and privilege. At the airport lower-ranking officials were Spanish-speaking Chileans who aspirate their "s’s" while the ranking military officer was giving orders in enunciated, US east-coast English. Inequality is deeply engrained in the country. Chile’s Spanish-speaking middle class is crippled by high prices, low wages, and a privatized health-care. Education which was touted to help Chileans attain a higher standard of life has, instead, become a debilitating anchor of debt. Meanwhile, the country’s political and corporate elite are profiteering from decades of economic growth leveraging a Constitution that prevents labor and tax reforms. As a result, Chile remains one of Latin America’s most unequitable countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The belief that free markets lead to prosperity, and prosperity will trickle down to the masses has been debunked worldwide. Chileans are protesting against these inequalities resulting in a government crackdown in which scores of people have been killed by the police and military. Businesses have suffered billions of dollars in damages and Santiago's public transport system has been rendered inoperative due to arson, vandalism and pillaging. Thousands of protesters are chanting, “Chile has woken,” in demonstrations across the country.

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Chile’s ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet is incriminated with many human right violations carried out under his 1973-1990 junta. I personally know many who were senselessly incarcerated. But Chile, as with many Latin American countries, transitioned into democracy without ever trying these former authoritarian elites. They were never excluded from positions of power. Many laws established by Pinochet remain operative—currently used against the Mapuche indigenous people, protestors and activists. This is done in the name of securing natural resources, protecting foreign loans and maintaining good international credit rating. 

The current Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, has agreed to draft a new constitution—a central demand made by the protesters. Should this happen, the new Constitution would replace the current one. The current Constitution illustrates a time when Pinochet along with President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger forced upon Chile economic policies that would consolidate an export-driven economy owned by foreign multi-nationals. A new Constitution, on the other hand, is hoped to become an updated social contract protecting the fundamental civic rights of Chileans—wresting Pinochet’s 30-year old grip from the country. Strong governments are not about military prowess or efficient intelligence apparatuses. Instead, governments should be about, as Thomas Jefferson once said, "the care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction."

Shahid Mahmood

Shahid Mahmood grew up in Pakistan. He was the editorial cartoonist for the national newspaper in Pakistan, Dawn. His work has appeared in numerous International publications including the Guardian, Huffington Post and Courrier International. Shahid’s work was viewed by world leaders at the 1997 APEC Conference, enjoyed by John F. Kennedy Jr., and managed to continuously enrage Benazir Bhutto. Shahid is internationally syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate; has work archived at the Museum of Contemporary History in Paris; and has been “Designated High-Profile” on the US Government's No-fly List. His web page is: http://drawnconclusions.com

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