POLITICS Social Crisis

What is President Piñera Doing to Solve the Crisis?

SANTIAGO – President Piñera recently announced a new security agenda that targets riots and looting, but this has only generated more controversy because of what it doesn’t do: address the public’s unmet demands that are the inspiration for the many protests and their violent offshoots. The president says he and his administration hear the public loud and clear, and that they are working hard to solve the crisis. What has he accomplished so far?

More than three weeks have passed since the first group of students jumped Metro tollgates in Santiago as part of an “evasion” protest against fare increases. But what started as a protest against a specific measure, quickly exploded to a nationwide “awakening” concerning years of social inequality. As a result, Chile is now in the throws of a broad-based social movement that shows no signs of letting up until significant, structural changes are made.

In the face of all this, President Sebastián Piñera could not stand idle. To date, he has implemented several measures to respond to the political crisis. “We have lived times of brutal and destructive violence, but we have also listened to the deep message from the citizens, asking and demanding a more just and solidary society,” he said in RadioUdeChile. These measures, however, cause many to question his intentions.

Replacing the President’s Cabinet

On Oct. 26, President Piñera asked his cabinet to resign. As reported by Diario U. de Chile, the president made the request, saying, “I have asked all ministers to put their positions to disposition, so we can structure a new cabinet to face these demands and take responsibility in these new times.” 

Three days later, the ministers of the Interior, Economy, Work, Finance and National Assets were removed and replaced, as detailed by T13.

The president was nevertheless roundly criticized that none of the ministers related to the areas that were the subject of the public’s demands were removed or replaced.

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The New Social Agenda of Piñera

A few days before President Piñera replaced his cabinet, he also announced a new social agenda to respond to the public’s most urgent demands.

The new agenda includes changes to the healthcare system. Among other things, it would: create catastrophic disease insurance to put a ceiling on family health spending, create insurance that partially covers medical expenses not covered by programs such as the GES or the Ricarte Soto Law, and extend Fonasa agreement with pharmacies to reduce the price of medicines.

The new agenda also changes the retirement system by increasing pensions and pension contributions for a variety of constituents.

Additional changes aim to:

  • strengthen the Municipal Common Fund and establish greater contributions from higher income communes for the benefit of lower income communes (to allow greater equity in the provision of municipal services);
  • stabilize electricity rates (to cancel the recent rate increase);
  • raise taxes on higher incomes;
  • improve the justice system to facilitate access
  • strengthen the legal defense and social and psychological support to victims of crime;
  • reduce the wages of parliamentarians and high salaries of public administration
  • reduce the number of parliamentarians and impose term limits.

“We know that this agenda does not solve all the problems, but we know it represents relief on the way to a better quality of life … This agenda will represent a great effort in our finances,” the president said, according to Diario U de Chile. He also posted details of this agenda on Twitter.

Although the social agenda was rolled out as the first set of changes in response to the crisis, the measures and their timing were highly criticized. In The Clinic, journalist Juan Cristóbal Guarello explained the dissatisfaction saying that the president did not analyze other core abuses further, like wealth concentration, student loan debt, or the crimes committed during the latest protests. 

Minimum Wage Increase

Another change was the increase in the minimum wage from CLP$301,000 to CLP$350,000 (~US$396 to US$461). 

Piñera added that those earning less than CLP$350,000 will receive a helping hand from the government to reach the number. This also applies to those who earn proportionally less for less work hours. 

As reported by RadioImagina, Piñera said, “This will directly benefit 340,000 Chilean workers, and will represent an important cost for the government: around CLP$190,000,000 in the first year of application.” The bill was announced and immediately sent to Congress for further approval.

Although the wage increase was appreciated, it was nevertheless controversial, as many think the new minimum wage is still insufficient.

For example, Bio Bio Regional Economy Secretary (Seremi) Mauricio Gutiérrez told BioBioChile, “If you asked me … if CLP$350,000 is enough to sustain a household and live, I would automatically say no.” Nevertheless, he appreciated the president’s effort, saying that the action demonstrated an ability to improve.

The Security Agenda: a Band-Aid Focus?

The most controversial measure to date, however, is the security agenda announced Nov. 7 that is designed to toughen punishments for rioters and looters. After more than three weeks of riots and destruction, President Piñera pulled this card out of his sleeve with 10 bills and measures.

The new bill focuses on the Ley Antiencapuchados and Ley Antisaqueos, which would toughen punishments for those involved in looting, riots, and other disorderly conduct. For example, rioters would face enhanced punishments if they cover their faces or attempt to hide their identities while committing such acts, or if they build barricades.

The police and military also receive additional support and protection. The intelligence and surveillance systems of the Carabineros (police) and Investigations Police (PDI) would also be improved, including enhanced aerial surveillance. Teams would also be tasked to identify and prosecute those who commit such acts and to focus on intelligence and surveillance. Another measure would increase punishments for those who attempt to harm government agents, including the police and PDI, on the job.

The only measure among these that directly benefits the public is one designed to enhance police protocols for receiving complaints. An official email and six WhatsApp numbers will be dedicated to civil complaints.

The security agenda left many perplexed. They feel President Piñera has done little in response to their demands regarding retirement pensions, healthcare systems, education, and cost of living; and, instead, is focusing on an agenda dedicated to repressing the riots caused by those he refuses to hear. Communist Party (PC) deputy Karol Cariola told Radio San Joaquín, “instead of listening to Chile, Piñera … locks himself up in a solitary war of him against his own people.”

Valparíso mayor Jorge Sharp directly addressed the president via Twitter: “What did you not understand? We are not at war! More repression will not solve the social injustice you have spent years overlooking.”

After President Piñera announced the security agenda, he said he would gather the National Security Council (Cosena) to discuss the situation further. This only further disappointed much of the public and the legislature, because the president is only supposed to convene Cosena regarding facts and matters that “seriously undermine the foundations of the institutional framework or may compromise national security.”

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