Chile in the Streets

Chile is South America’s most prosperous and, until now, one of its most stable countries. But Chileans are demanding new rights and refusing to accept the restrictions imposed by the country’s past dictatorship, thus making one of the region’s most prosperous countries a less harmonious one.

SANTIAGO – Almost everywhere I have traveled in recent months, I have been asked the same question: Why are Chile’s students and their families protesting?

It is a good question. Chile is one of South America’s most advanced and, until now, most stable countries. But, over the past 20 years, its people have achieved a mature political sensibility; they demand new rights and refuse to accept the restrictions lingering from the country’s recent undemocratic past. As a result, one of the region’s most prosperous countries has now become a less harmonious one.

Between 1990, when democracy was restored, and 2010, Chile experienced rapid economic growth, more than tripling its per capita income and making it possible to reduce poverty with targeted, highly efficient policies. In 1990, 40% of Chileans were living below the poverty line. By 2000, that share had fallen to 22%, and, by 2010, to 11%, with little more than 3% living in outright destitution.