Magazine article Newsweek International

Models: A Big Step to the Left; as the Wave of Latin Unrest Reaches Chile, This Redoubt of Economic Conservatism Starts Building a Welfare State

Magazine article Newsweek International

Models: A Big Step to the Left; as the Wave of Latin Unrest Reaches Chile, This Redoubt of Economic Conservatism Starts Building a Welfare State

Article excerpt

Byline: Jimmy Langman

It's hardly surprising that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet didn't take them seriously at first. They were just a bunch of chiquillos --kids--decked out in their black-and-white high-school uniforms complaining about the quality of education. But those "kids" are part of a new generation that has grown up free of the repressive 17-year dictatorship of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Coordinating protests through e-mail, blogs and cell phones, they turned out for three weeks last June--an estimated one million of them--to boycott classes, close schools and clash with police in the largest student movement in Chile's history. Their "Penguin revolution," as it came to be called, rocked a complacent establishment and focused a spotlight not only on education but on the 12th worst income gap between rich and poor among countries worldwide. By the end of the year, the protests had spread to strikes by workers at hospitals and schools, and Bachelet was aggressively pushing an agenda of social reforms. "Chile is not far away from restoring a social-welfare state," says Chilean economist Manuel Riesco, who has studied development models throughout the region. "We are beginning to move away from the myth in Chile that the market can solve everything."

Belatedly, the frustrations with the country's free-market economic model that have erupted in protest and brought leftists to power in some parts of Latin America are forcing change on Chile, once an oasis of stability. The strikes began in August at the nation's largest copper mine, Escondida, and more strife is predicted in the year ahead. "Chileans have lost their patience," says Claudio Fuentes, a Chilean political scientist. "They are more conscious now that there is an abundance of wealth in this country and that it's not being shared the way it should."

That looks set to change. …

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