Chile's Political Gridlock May Limit Effect of Growing Protests

By Bodzin, Steven | The Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Chile's Political Gridlock May Limit Effect of Growing Protests


Bodzin, Steven, The Christian Science Monitor


Despite a year of overwhelming demonstrations in Chile, including a general strike launched yesterday, analysts say change is unlikely due to the rigidity of the Chilean political system.

As Chile enters its second day of a general strike on top of ongoing, two-month-long student demonstrations, analysts said the country's growing protest movements are unlikely to win their immediate demands because of a deliberately gridlocked political system.

Chilean cities have been overwhelmed by demonstrations this year, starting with a rebellion in the southern Magallanes region over rising natural gas prices.

In April, demonstrators marched against a planned hydroelectric dam in Patagonia. For two months, a student movement has demanded an end to profiteering in education, attracting hundreds of thousands of citizens to near-weekly marches. The country's biggest association of labor unions called today's strike to support student demands and to demand better working conditions.

"In Chile, political crises have usually been ended with coup d'etats," said Ricardo Israel, dean of legal and social science at the Autonomous University of Chile. With no likelihood of such a move, he said, "it's possible that after the environment of demonstrations subsides, Chile will go on the same as before."

Strike supporters and opponents differed on whether yesterday's strike was effective.

The government said only 5 percent of public-sector workers stayed home and the biggest manufacturing group, Sofofa, said 99 percent of plants were operating normally. But the Santiago Metro reported 30 percent fewer passengers than normal, reports The Clinic, a local newspaper. Many government offices in central Santiago were closed.

Some protesters burned barricades and blocked major streets, while other strike supporters danced and sang on sidewalks. The police responded to both aggressive and peaceful protests with water cannons and tear gas.

Growing deadlock

Positions are hardening as the government finds itself outmaneuvered while protesters remain powerless to affect change on their own, said Armen Kouyoumdjian, a country risk analyst based in Vina del Mar.

"You see the sort of things the right has been saying about the students, that they are just Bolshevik subversive troublemakers, and demonizing them and playing dirty tricks," he said, referring to the center-right government of President Sebastian Pinera and its supporters. "And the students and others have started smelling blood and haven't budged much from their original positions."

The prior government, under President Michelle Bachelet, was able to coopt a similar student movement in 2006 with promises of dialogue, but Mr. …

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