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Protests in the Global South: Ecuador and Chile Facing an Uncertain Economic Order

Protests in the global south, particularly in Chile and Ecuador, appear to be the result of long range monetarist policies that suit the political class and fail large sections of society.

13 October 2019, Ecuador, Quito: Demonstrators cheer on the government's decision to withdraw the controversial increase in fuel prices. This was agreed by the government and the leadership of the indigenous peoples after lengthy negotiations. (Photo by Juan Diego Montenegro/picture alliance via Getty Images)

13 October 2019, Ecuador, Quito: Demonstrators cheer on the government's decision to withdraw the controversial increase in fuel prices. This was agreed by the government and the leadership of the indigenous peoples after lengthy negotiations. (Photo by Juan Diego Montenegro/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Latin American south cone countries have been international analysed for what is being called social protests in the face of rising prices, elimination of subsidies, sale of ancestral lands to mining companies and other anti-social measures taken by governments.

However, if you look at the recent history of Ecuador and Chile, nations where these expressions of discontent have been focused on, such protests should be seen as a resistance or as emancipatory movements that are fighting an unequal economic and social order, which increasingly configures to various geographical regions.

According to Chileans, “it’s not 30 pesos it’s 30 years”, which is said in reference to recent events apparently triggered by the rising price of public transport, alongside continued authoritarianism and repression despite the ending of the dictatorship and a precarious economic situation.

Since the extinction of the welfare state, to which political trends such as Reganism and Thatcherism in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively have contributed – which has adversely impacted the working class – the aim of the economic neoliberal project has been to erode the social commitment of the state. Instead it underpins the idea of market self-regulation in the search for less state intervention in economic matters, alongside the implications that this brings to social welfare.

In this sense, the role of international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) has been crucial in maintaining the international monetary order in favour of the great powers, that is, the countries of the “centre” and what Wallerstein defined as dominant nations, as opposed to the countries on the “periphery”, who needs are subordinated by the former’s.

Particularly after 1989 with the collapse of the socialist bloc and building of the Washington Consensus, economic policies of market liberalization were designed and, with a view to achieving macroeconomic stabilization of nations in crisis, the reduction of public spending was also formulated.

Chile and Ecuador, as well as other countries in the region, are failing their citizens, who are increasingly experiencing a significant deterioration in their daily living conditions..

Within this context, the political and social climate in Ecuador and Chile has been sparked by discontent and above all the havoc caused by these long-range monetarist policies, which promote public fund and welfare austerity for citizens in key areas such as education or health.

When talking about economic development, interpretations of governments become biased. Chile is a paradigmatic case in Latin America. ECLAC figures showed an encouraging growth rate of 1.5% in 2017 and 3.9% in 2018.

Also, in the Southern hemisphere but on a different continent is the parallel case of India, whose growth levels are applauded worldwide. However, when observing macroeconomic indicators human development indicators are often ignored, that is data referring to quality of life, access to health and education and generally the possibility of having a decent standard of living.

It is these indicators, not those of economic growth, where Chile and Ecuador, as well as other countries in the region, are failing their citizens, who are increasingly experiencing a significant deterioration in their daily living conditions.

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In the case of Ecuador, which has a lower economic growth rate, 2.4% and 1.3% in 2017 and 2018 respectively, the problem of poor human development indices is reiterated here in a context where Lenis Moreno, the president, allows international finance organisations to dictate the Ecuadorian economy. The so-called “package” includes the elimination of fuel subsidies, makes working conditions less secure in return for increased entitlements in the business sector such as reimbursements of taxes for exporters or the abolition of taxes on technology imports.

The result of these economic policies has been increasing levels of poverty for broad sectors of the population, including indigenous groups stripped of land to deliver to mining companies.

However, against the onslaught of the state, workers, indigenous people and young people in Ecuador and Chile as well as Haiti, and less powerfully in Argentina resisted and reminded governments that they cannot continue to rule for elites. Their resistance movements are an affirmation of themselves as political actors and they demand that State incorporate them key actors in the political process.

There is beginning to be questions over whether this can be called a "Latin American spring."

Chile is a business state, says Arelis Uribe, a Chilean journalist and writer, but it’s not limited to Chile, perhaps it is a global condition to preserve predatory capitalism underpinned by accumulation by dispossession, as identified by the geographer David Harvey. Summed up as the privatization strategies and the manipulation of economic crises for the benefit of a voracious financial minority.

In light of the events, the media have emphasized the instability of the region, but the imbalance is not due to the mobilizations of the population, but because of such a wide social gap and social injustices as well as the clumsiness of deaf governments and their insensitivity to the demands of citizens.

The apology from the Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera, refers to the lack of recognition from inequality and the abuse of the Chilean people. It’s very unfortunate that he didn’t realise this before almost two dozen deaths and huge mobilisations. The blindness of political class has huge economic costs, but the most unfortunate thing is the loss of human life.

There is beginning to be questions over whether this can be called a “Latin American spring”. In any case the “Arab spring” originated as a result of authoritarian regimes. In the context of Latin America these movements have democracies as a backdrop. The regular changes between left and right governments in the region in recent years shows that a specific political orientation or ideology is not enough.

The instability of the economic model in crisis, must be reiterated as it absorbs the ideology, regardless of whether they are progressive.

If democracy is going to be a real alternative to what the authoritarian regimes have represented – despite at the moment democracy has been responding with repression and violence as demonstrated by Moreno and Piñera – it must leave the route drawn out by neoliberalism and its altered order of priorities that results in the hoarding of wealth and resources .

Beatriz Martínez Saavedra

Beatriz Martínez Saavedra

Beatriz Martínez Saavedra has a PhD in history from the University of Warwick. She teaches history of India, world history and languages in several institutions in Mexico. Her research topics include the rise of the Hindu right in India, Muslims as a minority and gender violence in a comparative perspective between India and Mexico.

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