Peaceful Demonstration in Chile’s Capital Draws over 1 Million Citizens

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Chilean President Sebastian Pineda’s apology, backpedaling on the subway fare hike, and introduction of socio-economic reforms apparently has not satisfied the majority of citizens. On Friday afternoon more than 1 million Chileans took to the streets of Santiago in a massive demonstration calling for major social and political change in the South American country. Many of the protesters were also calling for Pineda’s resignation. His crackdown on the protests last weekend and earlier this week appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in many citizens eyes. 19 people were killed, and over 3,000 arrested and detained. Friday’s demonstration was the largest Chile has seen since 1988 and brought Santiago to a complete standstill.

On Friday evening Pineda assured the people he’s heard their message. He tweeted: “The massive, joyful and peaceful march today, where Chileans ask for a more just and supportive Chile, opens great paths for the future and hope. We have all heard the message. We have all changed. With unity and help from God, we will walk the path to a Chile that’s better for everyone.”

What happens from here is anybody’s guess. The mood of the Chilean people right now is overwhelmingly hopeful, and positive after Friday’s demonstration. That may turn out to be short-lived though if the promised reforms do not come about, or if Pineda refuses to submit his resignation.

Chile is hardly the only country contending with a wave of protests demanding social, economic, and political change. What began in Hong Kong this summer is inspiring millions around the world to take to the streets in protest of real or perceived oppressive government policies, and actions.

I had wanted to discuss Canada a little more this weekend, but I think what’s happening in Chile, Iraq, Lebanon, Catalonia, and other places is worth a longer post on Sunday. I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.

Chilean Government Hopes Reform Efforts Will Bring an End to Unrest

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The dissatisfaction of citizens coming to a boil has been a recurrent theme around the world in 2019. Violent protests over soaring costs of living, official corruption, and unemployment have gripped Hong Kong, Iraq, Ecuador, and Lebanon in recent months. Now Chile has joined the list.

Five days of violence, and unrest in the capital city of Santiago, and around the nation have evoked a government response. Chile’s president, and legislators are preparing a series of social equality reforms today in hopes it will stabilize the situation and bring peace to the streets. President Sebastian Pinera is sending a bill to the National Congress today that will overturn high electricity rates. A second bill will be dispatched tomorrow calling for minimum pension payouts to be raised by 20%.  Over the weekend, protests touched off by a subway fare increase escalated to looting, arson, and riots. Pinera declared a state of emergency and brought in the military to restore order.

The violence came as a shock for Chileans as their country has long been a bastion of political, and economic stability in South America. Rising subway fare proved to be the tipping point for Chile’s poor and middle class, though it is clear the unrest has been about far more. Rising utility costs, sluggish wages, and meager pensions. The nation’s economy has also suffered from global trade tensions, rising oil prices, and sliding copper prices. Copper is Chile’s main export. Despite this, Chile’s economic gains in recent years have been impressive. The problem is that many Chileans feel left out by the gains.

The government is hoping for the reforms to bring peace and stability back to the streets. Riots had continued yesterday following Pinera’s apology and announcement of coming reforms. Today, action being taken in the congress, the number of rioters in Santiago has been considerably smaller. As the week comes to an end it will become clear if Chile is in for another weekend of unrest, or if the government reforms have quelled the angry mood of the people.

Does Maduro Have a Plan B?

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Nicolas Maduro is a survivor. Let’s be honest about this and give the Venezuelan leader credit where he deserves it. He has held onto power for years despite massive protests, a wrecked economy, international sanctions, and  worldwide condemnation. Through all of this, Maduro has maintained a vise-like grip on power, in large part because the Venezuelan military has remained in his corner. But the time might be approaching where that support disappears and when that happens, Maduro’s position will become tenuous in the blink of an eye.

The political situation in Venezuela has changed dramatically over the last month. International pressure on Maduro to either resign, or hold new elections is growing by the day. The opposition has united under the leadership of Juan Guaido and is gaining strength and momentum with each passing day. US sanctions have become a financial noose around the Maduro government’s neck, and the Trump administration can tighten the rope even more if it so desires. As conditions stand at the moment, Maduro’s level of power, and influence have nowhere to go except down. His supporters, and allies around the world do not have the economic, and political clout to effectively counter the US-led diplomatic, and economic offensive now underway against Maduro. Russia, arguably Venezuela’s closest ally, is not going to rescue Maduro in the same manner it did Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Reports have surfaced in the US media over the last 24 hours regarding a rumor that some of Maduro’s aides are putting together an escape plan for their embattled leader should it become necessary. If the rumor holds true, it reinforces Maduro’s reputation as a survivor, and also shows that Venezuela’s leader is more of a realist than his Utopia-themed, pipedreamish public speeches let on. One of his political role models is former Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was removed from power and killed by Chile’s military leaders in 1973. Allende was an avowed leftist who attempted to bring socialism to Chile. The experiment was rocky and brought on economic difficulties for Chile’s people. However, it was nothing compared to the humanitarian, and economic nightmare Venezuela is facing right now.

Like Allende, Maduro’s survival is directly linked to keeping the military in his corner. If it becomes clear to him that the relationship is starting to sour, his survival instinct will likely kick in. From there, Maduro could step down and leave the country. Not the most glorious conclusion for the most powerful man in Venezuela. However, it is preferable to being removed from power by his generals, and meeting a fate similar to that of Allende.

Thursday 30 March, 2017 Update: Venezuela’s Supreme Court Dissolves National Assembly

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Democracy in Venezuela has been on life support for an extended period of time. The ruling and actions by its Supreme Court Wednesday night may have pulled the plug. The court ruled that the nation’s elected legislators are ‘operating outside the law’by defying previous court ruling. As a result, the legislature is to be dissolved. The Supreme Court will assume legislative duties for the time being. The judicial body is firmly in the camp of embattled President Nicolas Maduro and its latest actions are nothing short of a coup that all but assures the nation will be under One-Man rule.

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly has been regarded by many as the last hope for democracy in that country. It was beginning to push back against Maduro and his United Socialist Party’s already tight grip on power. With the loss of the legislature, however, the opposition has been removed from the equation. The government is clearly operating outside of the constitution but now there is no system of checks and balances to repair the imbalance. The three branches of government will all be controlled by the United Socialist Party.

The nation is facing a nearly unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the result of the continuing economic meltdown Venezuela is enduring. Food, basic goods, and medicine are running dangerously short. Staggering inflation is making currency essentially useless and the bulk of Venezuela’s monetary reserves will go towards debt repayment.

Regional reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Peru reacted to the ruling by recalling its ambassador to Caracas and is considering the full suspension of diplomatic relations. Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile all denounced Maduro’s government. The Organization of American States (OAS) also denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling. OAS Secretary General Luis Amalgro accused the Venezuelan government of attempting “a self-inflicted coup d’etat” The United States joined in by releasing a statement condemning the court’s “decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly. … We consider it a serious setback for democracy.”

How the opposition, and Venezuelan citizens respond will reveal much about the future of Venezuela. As the heartbeat of democracy there fades it becomes painfully clear that nothing short of a powerful, perhaps violent, jolt will keep it alive. Venezuelans need to act decisively and do it now. Otherwise, the nation will permanently fall into the dark peril of dictator rule.