"In Chile, two countries coexist within one"

The economist Ignacio Flores Beale observes, in a tribune to the "World", that for three decades, growth and inequality have grown at the same rate in Chile. A phenomenon at the origin of the powerful movement of social protest.

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"Chile has long been considered an example for neoliberal ideology, but it demonstrates the violence of a system that perpetuates a long-standing social divide. (Photo: demonstration in Santiago, Nov. 4.) RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP

Tribune. " It's not 30 pesos, it's thirty! " The sentence refers to the increase in the price of the metro ticket in Santiago de Chile, which triggered the biggest demonstration in the country since the referendum against Pinochet in 1989 ("We do not fight for 30 pesos, but against thirty years of liberal politics"). The crowd is on the street, a curfew has been imposed for a week, the Chilean government has announced 15 deaths, while the National Institute of Human Rights of Chile has counted more than 130 complaints of torture and 1,500 wounded.

The situation looks like déjà vu, but it may seem difficult to understand how Chile, often considered exemplary, has arrived there. The Chilean economy seems to be well, real wages – which take into account the evolution of prices – increase. Even the minimum wage has more than doubled in thirty years. What happened? Why does the government not succeed in calming people's minds? What to do to solve the situation?

An untouchable elite

Over the last three decades, economic inequality has been relatively stable in Chile, meaning that all incomes have risen at the same rate, but inequalities have remained at extreme levels. On the one hand, the richest 1% of the population has accumulated between a quarter and a third of income, and the richest 10% have recovered more than half. Thus, for 1 euro of growth, the top decile recovers about 55 cents, and 90% of the population shares the rest. These differences mean that two countries coexist within one, one with the income of the rich in Germany, the other with that of the poor in Moldova.

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These inequalities are far from being economic. The feeling of the population is that Chile has an untouchable elite occupying an undeserved place. For example, Quiñeco, the largest investment company in the country, is controlled by Iris Fontbona, who inherited it; the second fortune of the country is the gift of a company – formerly public – from Pinochet to his son-in-law. The Chilean reality is far from the prevailing meritocratic ideal, because in practice the decisive places are reserved in advance for some men from hermetic social circles.


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