Since last October, sparked by a hike in public transportation fares, a broad alliance of Chile's unions and other social movements have been protesting against low wages, the high cost of basic necessities and persistently high social inequality. The country's extreme model of privatization of most public services and basic programs in health care, social security and education has guided most public policy since the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990). Since October, the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), Chile's largest labor organization has convened three general strikes, the largest of which brought more than 1 million people into the streets.
The government reacted to the protests with repression and violence reminiscent of the Pinochet era, leading to the deaths of at least 29 people, thousands of grave injuries and numerous rapes while protesters were in police custody. In response, 18 members of the U.S. House of Representatives called on the U.S. Embassy in Chile to defend the fundamental rights of the Chilean people and encourage the pursuit of peaceful, democratic dialogue.
The constitution drafted and imposed by the dictatorship in 1980 has blocked substantive changes to the extreme free-market model that has created a small wealthy class while making working peoples' and retirees' lives precarious and stressful, with most jobs paying too little to afford expensive privatized education, health care and pensions while investing little in public systems in these basic areas.
For too long, Chile has been held up as an example for developing countries to follow to advance economically by extreme free-market measures while avoiding larger issues of sustainability, democracy and inclusion. With recent sustained protests, Chileans are overcoming that legacy in the face of excessive violence by the government and are claiming their rights. As result of sustained protest, nearly all Chilean political parties agreed to hold a referendum in April about replacing the constitution written under the Pinochet dictatorship. Chile has the opportunity to build a sustainable future with social justice.
During this transition, the government must protect and respect human rights. As the CUT opened its 12th national congress on Jan. 24, bringing together its unions and an international delegation representing more than a dozen countries, CUT launched the campaign Chile: No Más! to mobilize the international community to increase attention to ongoing human rights violations in Chile and pressure the government to honor its commitments to human rights and democracy. The AFL-CIO has joined this effort.